Thursday, November 30, 2006


As I scanned my previous historical overview, I noticed huge gaps in the narrative, but to fill in all those gaps would necessitate a book.

What I am trying to do is create some sense of context to the Pentecostal movement to give the reader a perspective as to why the Pentecostal movement happened and why it seems to be fast becoming the dominant Christian expression of the majority of Christians in the West.

I also intend in this post to begin talking about the positive aspects of the movement as I see it.

At the turn of the 20th century small groups of Christians began reporting certain people "speaking in tongues" first at a small Bible college in Topeka, Kansas and then at a small store front "holiness" church on Azuza Street in Los Angeles. Early Pentecostals were, for the most part, from "holiness" churches like Methodism or other "holiness" groups that believed in "second blessing holiness" or sanctification which gave the believer the "power" to lead a holy life.

When one looks at all these historical movements, from the early works of John and Charles Wesley, to the British Keswick "Higher Life" movements, to late 19th century "faith healers," to the emergence of the Pentecostal movement, all these movements had one overriding motivation: to "restore" Christianity to its former glory and power.

Every offshoot since the beginning of the Pentecostal movement has similar goals. Even when the "holiness" movement spit into Pentecostal (Assemblies of God, United Pentecostal Church, Church of God, and others) and non-Pentecostal movements (Nazarene Church, Wesleyan Churches, Christian and Missionary Alliance Churches) they still maintained this distinctive of believing their particular movement was some kind of restoration or rediscovery of the power of the Holy Spirit given to the first Apostles that had been "lost" somewhere along the way.

Typically these Pentecostal churches were led by strong personalities, and this religious movement allowed both men and women to pastor. It didn't discriminate as to race either. William Seymour, the pastor of the little church on Azuza Street where most say the modern Pentecostal movement started was an African-American. Many of the leaders, especially in the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World denomination, were black. There was an egalitarian value to this movement.

The movement was also marked by both personal demands for "holy" living, which usually meant that Pentecostal believers avoided the "worldly" entertainments of the day and strict prohibitions against alcholic beverages, and by ecstatic religious experiences, the most notable being "speaking in tongues" or glossolalia.

It is not within the scope of these articles to explore this historical subject thoroughly, but the above should give the reader at least a beginning in understanding the infancy of Pentecostalism.

As a former Pentecostal layperson and as a former pastor of a Pentecostal church, I owe a debt to my upbringing. These folks taught me the name of Jesus and shaped me to be both passionate for God and devoted to Him.

The good I see in Pentecostalism, and the reason I believe that the movement can be of great help to Christians in the West in rediscovering an Orthodox Christian faith, is that:

First, Pentecostalism throws into start relief one of the fundamental poverties of Western Christian theology - The Person of the Holy Spirit. A whole series of books could be written to talk about this point alone. When the West failed to balance the sterile effects of rationalism with a doctrinally and patristically informed mysticism, it set itself up for just the kind of pendulum swing it now sees in Pentecostalism. The human soul demands intimacy with God, and this intimacy is meant to be as real and as knowable as God is Himself. Reducing the faith to mere assent to propositional statements falls into the heresy of Docetism.

Second, Pentecostalism reinforces a sense of "mission" in their adherents. The whole point of receiving this "power" from the Holy Spirit was never just to make a person "feel good," but to set that very person free to win the lost and spread the Good News. This movement is now sweeping through Central and South America, the African continent, and even in secularized Europe and the United States challenging the religious establishment everywhere it goes to try to match its missionary zeal.

Finally, Pentecostalism dares to believe in miracles and God's direct intervention into the lives of everyday people. This "expectation" of God's work in a person's daily life makes God more than just a far off deity keeping score of your good and bad deeds. This God is a God Who cares about your sick child, your dire circumstances, and your eternal salvation. That kind of personal faith is a source of great comfort and encouragement.

These positive aspects of Pentecostalism are certainly not exclusive to this very young movement, but with the phenomenal growth of Pentecostalism, it certainly is important to note since your neighbor or even a relative is probably involved or touched by the Pentecostal movement.

Next, The Fire Fails


Here's a break from my ramblings about Pentecostalism in the form of a thought provoking post from Fr. Stephen at Glory To God For All Things.

Passing on the healthy faith of Orthodoxy to the next generation is our task. As a father, I cannot tell you the fear that drives me to my knees asking for both forgiveness for my shortcomings and mercy for my children and grandchildren, that, in spite of my mistakes, they embrace and be embraced by the wise faith of the afthers.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me, the sinner.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006


Pentecostalism is poised to become the dominant expression of Christianity in the West. The phenomenal growth of Pentecostal and Charismatic churches as well as the mainstreaming of Charismatic worship "styles" means that Pentecostalism and its emphasis on the immediate and intimate experience of the Presence of God in a believer's life is fast becoming normative for the vast majority of Western Christians.

I remember years ago as a boy in a classical Pentecostal church (Assemblies of God) hearing about the non-pentecostal churches in our area. They thought we were crazy and they warned their people to stay away from "those people." Now, those same non-pentecostal churches are singing worship choruses during services and their people are lifting their hands as they sing as a sign of worship. Eyes closed, hands raised, these people in these non-Pentecostal churches are following the successful and packed Pentecostal churches they see around them. In less than 30 years the influence of Pentecostalism has gone mainstream.

The vast majority of so called "mega-churches" are Pentecostal or Charismatic in nature.

As a former Pentecostal pastor, some have asked me if there is any benefit I see in my previous Pentecostal world.

As I think of this, I remember a relative of mine asking me if I'd ever consider returning to the Pentecostal fold. He asked in hopes of finding something that might convince me to abandon my "foolish" journey to Orthodoxy. I had to smile when he asked, knowing his sincerity and honest desire to "rescue" me from my folly. He really meant well. He really loved me and wanted the best for me.

But I had to look him in the face and say there was no way I'd go back after having discovered the "treasure hidden in the field." I had "sold all I had" to "buy" this field and there was no need to go back.

I am grateful for my Pentecostal background but would have to actually "unlearn" much of what I have learned over the subsequent years to be able to return to what I believe is an inherently childish Christian theology.

Having said that, I would like to discuss briefly where I see the great value of Pentecostalism in remedying some theological poverty in the West.

One of the main reasons for the Protestant Reformation and the Enlightenment (mutually and historically connected events) was the scholasticism of the Roman Catholic world at the time. Scholasticism, in my opinion, was neither good nor bad, but, as with most historical developments, had both positive and negative consequences.

One of the negative consequences was the emphasis on a legalistic framing of theological truths.

It is no surprise that the vast majority of the Protestant Reformers were Augustinians. And it was the Augustinians who were at the forefront of the Scholastic movement in Roman Catholicism. There are sufficient numbers of Orthodox critics of Blessed Augustine, but I won't join their chorus. However, I am convinced that the theological system initiated by this great doctor of the Undivided Church had tragic consequences centuries after the passing of this great man. Consequences unintended by him and certainly unforeseen.

The Protestant Reformation accepted the theological system of the day from the Roman Catholics lock, stock, and barrel. They simply came up with different answers to the same questions, hence the split in the Western Church. What then developed historically was a theological system that was left intact and unquestioned by the interlocutors. The fight was about the answers to established questions and not about the theological questions themselves.

Soon after the Reformation (some would call it a Revolution, the first of many more to come) there were divisions among the Reformers all along the same rationalistic and theological framework already accepted.

The results of this religious development rocked along for several centuries until the Methodist movement in England and the sorted "Awakenings" that occurred in Great Britain and then in the United States. These "revivals" of religious fervor were always marked by demonstrative displays, whether it was the "mourner's bench" at the front of the church buildings that later developed into the "altar call" area in the front of many Pentecostal churches, or the ecstatic displays chronicled by reporters of these "Awakenings" during the height of these "outpourings." The people were hungry spiritually and gifted orators were able to whip this "hunger" into a frenzy of religious demonstration which turned into periods of religious devotion for a time. These movements also has a sociological component as well, reaching the poor and "great unwashed" masses with both a sense of hope and spiritual fulfillment.

But then there was a "need" for another "revival" when the devotion waned, as it always had in the past.

What followed was a successive number of "revival" movements that spawned whole new denominations.

The so called "holiness" movement so important in the initial revival work of the Wesley brothers of Methodism developed into new "holiness" movements meant to either "recapture" the purity of the initial Methodist movement or to restore the perceived "power" of the "first century church." At the end of the 19th century several revival movements claimed to have rediscovered the "missing theological truth" that would propel the Christian message forward, and all of these movements depended on touching that part of the human soul that longed for true intimacy with God through Christ.

But the hunger of the human heart was still unsatisfied by these movements and the theological underpinnings of these various revival movements still left many cold. Especially when the natural maturing sociological pressures were brought to bear on these new Christian movements.

The beginning of the 20th century was then ripe in the West for "another" revivalistic movement, both spiritually and sociologically.

Next, the Pentecostals emerge.

Thursday, November 09, 2006


Recently, Dr. Vincent Synan, Dean of the Divinity School and Regent University and long time historian of the Pentecostal and Charismatics movements, commented on the explosive growth of the Pentecostal movement across the increasingly Christian Southern Hemisphere by saying that those who want to deal with Christians will not be able to ignore the Pentecostals since they are on track to become the predominant expression of the Christian faith in this growing part of the world.

Just a few days ago the New York Times published a story concerning a recent scientific study on the brain activity of someone while they spoke in tongues. As an aside, one wonders why the Times cannot hire an editor who knows enough about the religious world to know that Pentecostal is not spelled "Pentacostal!"

As a former Pentecostal pastor, I was once asked if I still speak in tongues now that I have converted to Eastern Orthodoxy. Having been raised in this sub-culture of the Christian faith, I was blessed to be pastored by a Pentecostal pastor who was also open to the wider Evangelical movement. He taught us to value education (not a widely held opinion in the older versions of Pentecostalism) and he taught us to learn from the wider Christian world. While he regrets my conversion to Orthodoxy, he has never treated me with anything less than love and respect.

Oh, and as for the question mentioned above, the answer is "no" I no longer speak in tongues, unless you consider liturgical Greek a gift of the Spirit.

I contend that the growth of Pentecostalism and the less strident Charismatic movement is a result of a theological poverty in Western Christianity that can be seen as early as the "filioque" controversy and the unintended theological consequences that followed. The emphasis of the West on rationalism and the weak and sometimes bizarre forms of mysticism that developed in the West gave rise to both the over reaction and sad necessity of the Reformation which gave rise to the even more rationalistic movements of Calvinism and legalistic, sterile, piety of the 1st and 2nd so-called "Great Awakenings. All of this led to the subsequent Holiness movements of the 19th century along with the multiplying of Christian "denominations" on the American continent, and eventually led to the outbreak of the Pentecostal movement at the turn of the 20th century.

The human longing that gave birth to the Pentecostal movement is not bad in itself. The fundamental and basic hunger that is addressed by Pentecostalism is a desire for intimacy with the Uncreated God. This is good and God-given. We were meant for intimacy with the Divine.

But the theological poverty that was the atmosphere of the birth of Pentecostalism guaranteed that the very good desire would be quickly corrupted by weak theological support. And the movement bears this out. All one has to do is turn on religious TV to discover both old and new heresies finding fertile ground in the hearts of ungrounded and disconnected Pentecostal believers.

One of the earliest heresies was the so-called "Oneness" heresy concerning the doctrine of the Trinity. Once again, the weak theological grounding of Western theologies concerning the Trinity produced the natural over reaction of some in the young Pentecostal movement to receive the "revelation" of the oneness of the Godhead. They began to teach a form of "modalism" and insist that God is not a trinity of Persons, but only One Person - Jesus. Beginning with the "new issue" of baptism only in the name of Jesus, these often sincere and fervent believers, cut off as they were from the wise theology of centuries of Christian theology, made it up as they went along.

One might have hoped that as the movement matured it would outgrow the excesses of its past, but the Oneness Pentecostals actually make up a third of all the Pentecostals in the world. The recent movie "Jesus Camp" is an example of both the biased view of the secular world toward people of faith and the easy target Pentecostals make of themselves by due to their being cut off from the wise and sobering theology of the Orthodox Christian faith.

But weak theology on the doctrine of the Trinity is not the only "strange fire" that burns in the fields of Pentecostalism. The so-called "Prosperity Gospel", the hyper-individualism that seems to reign within the movement and all its offshoots, the emotionalism that leads to nothing more than religious sentimentalism, and even the weakness of dependence on ecstatic experiences that even seem to feed a tendency toward sexual immorality, can all be found in abundance in Pentecostal movements.

Reading this you may wonder if I see any good in my former Pentecostal roots. You may be surprised to read that I consider Pentecostalism the greatest hope for Western Christianity to correct the theological mistakes of its past. I am convinced that Pentecostalism is God's gift to the West to draw Western Christianity back to a more ancient and healthier theological experience with God. Pentecostalism is the poor man's mysticism, and, as I said above, a clear cry for intimacy with God. I am indebted to my Pentecostal roots for fanning the flames of this desire for intimacy for God and for an experience in Christian community I cherish to this day. It eventually led me home to the Orthodox Church where, instead of burning my spiritual house down with "wild fire", I found a wise fireplace for the fire kindled in my heart by my Pentecostal upbringing. Thank you, Brother Holder and Open Bible Tabernacle. I shall be in your debt forever.

But the only remedy for the spiritual sicknesses that pervades Pentecostalism is a return to, or perhaps a discovery for the first time of, the wisdom of the Undivided Church. This must include rigorous theological work that take seriously the truth that we cannot truly understand what the Holy Spirit is saying to His Church today unless we understand what He has said to His Church in the past. The foolish behavior of making final choices about deep theological truths before we have gathered all the relevant theological evidence has produced too many spiritual casualties to be allowed to continue.

Pentecostalism is not going away. Christians from the more ancient traditions of the Church had better become well acquainted with this religious movement because societies are increasingly affected by this religious phenomenon. Pentecostals must abandon the prideful notion that their movement dropped out of heaven completely disconnected from the historical realities around them. The shallow "me and Jesus got our own thing going" mentality will never lead to anything more than a perpetual spiritual kindergarten. In the end, Pentecostalism may find itself increasingly dissimilar from Christianity.

Finally, as history shows, the Church eventually comes to grip with theological truths in the face of heretical threats. May the blessed and live-giving Holy Spirit give courage to the hearts of His people to pas on a robust and healthy Christian faith to future generations. The souls of precious and God-loved persons are at stake here.

Friday, November 03, 2006


Dear Ones,
I have just enjoyed a post on another blog. It is written by Fr. Stephen Freeman.

Please read it and perhaps together we can learn the power of St. Paul's lesson in learning how to rejoice over weaknesses rather than strengths. Can it really be true that "when I am weak, then I am strong"?

Go to "The Pillar and Ground of Truth" and contemplate what you read.


The headlines scream SCANDAL and the news stories keep pouring in. Sexual scandals, financial scandals, cover up scandals, all coming fast and furious and conveniently released close to election day. As the Church Lady would say "Isn't that special."

We are approaching, what I believe to be, one of the most important elections in our recent history. It is an election that will be closely watched by our friends and our enemies. As our world continues to "shrink" and information technology continues to send immediate messages all around the world, we cannot ignore the messages our elections communicate to others.

As the world's only super power left, our elections mean more than just local politics. We Americans are fast losing the luxury of believing "all politics is local." It isn't. Not any more.

Because of this I trust that sober citizens will avoid falling into the trap of the incessant scandals meant to suppress this or that voting block. Don't allow the failings of humans to distract you from supporting policies that you believe in.

Every human vessel is made of clay and is prone to failing to live up to the ideals we all say we believe. But that does not negate the ideals themselves. It just shows that we humans are better at preaching than living, but who isn't.

This is not to excuse the guilty. Not at all. Those who make wrong choices have to live with the consequences of those choices.

But real policy differences exist between the political parties today, and I, for one, refuse to ignore this.

Innocent and voiceless children are still being aborted in this country. Our national borders are still a leaking sieve. There are ideological enemies in this world who really want to destroy us, and no amount of appeasement will satisfy their fanatical desire to subjugate the world to their ideology. The poor still suffer from a one size fits all nanny government mentality imposed on whole generations of poor by those who lie to them. Political correctness elevates mediocrity in education and public discourse, dumbing down a generation and making them beholden to those with power, both corporate and political. Tried and time tested visions of society and morality are still being attacked all in the name of foolish and self centered narcissistic men who value themselves over all else.

This election matters. Going to the polls matters. Your vote matters. It matters to our nation. It matters to our soldiers fighting to preserve our freedoms. It matters to your children who will have to live in the world you leave behind.

There are those who cynically will use the failings of some to tempt you with the lie that your vote doesn't matter. They are wrong, and when you vote, when you stand up for the values that made this nation the envy of the planet, you preserve for another day the bright promise of freedom.

Don't let these scandals keep you from standing up and making your voice heard. There is too much at stake during this election. There is too much to lose if the forces of appeasement and weak resolve are allowed to undo the work already done. There is too much to lose if we remain silent.