Thursday, October 3, 2013

Pentecostalism's Lack of Historic Perspective

This article isn't so much about Pentecostalism or Charismatic Christian denominations as it is about an unmoored expression of Christianity simply leads the person to a different kind of Christianity, a kind that is not really Christian at all.
Pentecostalism is difficult to categorize since it is so irregular with doctrinal distinctives, however if we could boil it down to the common beliefs advocated by the various manifestations of Pentecostalism we might categorize it this way:
  1. Direct, personal experience or revelation from God/Holy Spirit.
  2. Attempt to emulate situation in Acts 2.
  3. Emphasis on "spiritual gifts" or powers.
But more than these 3 main beliefs, Pentecostalism  like every fringe group claiming to be Christian is often ahistorical -- not very concerned with historical context or perspective. Christianity without the anchor of its own history is simply a matter of each person's private interpretation.  This unChristian quality of Pentecostalism and other such groups that ignore or disdain historic perspective is actually counter productive to Christianity.  At some point, new adherents of Christianity, even Pentecostal Christianity will ask the questions, "Where did it all start and how did we get to this point?".  Aberrant groups such as the Charismatic movement or other such modern religious "movements" cannot really answer these questions truthfully without revealing they are in essence, outside of historic Christianity.
Although Pentecostals may point to Acts 2 as the foundation and basis for their beliefs, they fail to answer how shortly after the Acts 2 event, we don't really see historic Christianity manifested in a Pentecostal way, until about the early 1900s.  The question all advocates of aberrant "Christian" belief systems must answer is WHY?  Why did whatever "recovered" truth they are advocating was NOT practiced or advocated in the Church for the long periods of time that intervened?  The typical reply again undermines Christianity in that the typical answer is that the Church "lost" the belief or practice and thus it needed to be "restored".  This is counter to the belief that God is sovereign and has been guiding the Church since its inception...even through times of darkness.
Azusa Street Revival
The Azusa Street Revival, held in Los Angeles California from approximately 1906-1915 is often credited as the founding of Pentecostalism. The revival was led by an African-American named William Seymour after he was invited to the city to speak on his Pentecostal teachings.  The revival attracted international attention.
While we might be apt to laud some of the positives of the revival, such as a removal of racial barriers during worship we must not forget that on whole, the movement is unlike anything in Christianity.  Perhaps a person might respond, "So, the Reformation was also unlike anything in history yet it is now accepted as a legitimate expression of historic Christianity." The difference is, the Reformation was NOT trying to say 1500 years of Christianity had been wrong and that the Reformers were coming to "restore".  Rather, the Reformers while advocates of "Sola Scriptura", also advocated that they were upholding historic Christianity as evidenced by the many Reformed confessions written that 100% agreed with historic Christian creeds and confessions.  The Reformation is against Papalism, not against historic Christianity.
Every time a movement or group comes along claiming to be a "restoration" of Christianity or some lost manifestation of it, keep an eye on whether the movement or group is anti-historical.  Pay attention to see whether they ignore or disdain historic Christianity.  This will show clearly what is actually going on.  Historic Christianity is guided by the sovereign God who declared through Christ that the gates of hades would not prevail against the Church (Matt 16:18).  Every aberrant group or movement MUST first discount the continuity of Christianity and instead get the potential adherent to believe the Church has failed in some major way.  Once this is done, the potential adherent is ripe to be filled with all manner of false doctrines which as we can see from what happened with Pentecostalism then spreads and infects the entire Church.  The reason it is important for Christians to oppose these heresies is that these heresies ravage individuals and entire societies so much so that whenever true Christianity is preached, individuals or societies that had suffered at the hands of these heresies may reject Christianity altogether as destructive.  It is no wonder that countries like China do not want missionaries there.  I don't blame them for wanting to keep out things like Pentecostalism.  The power in REAL Christianity is Christ and His message, not in people flipping around on the floor or uttering babbling words (of which Acts 2 was never about), but the power in the Christian message is that men can made free even in their current condition (1 Cor 7:17-24) which transforms the person and in turn transforms the kingdoms of this world into the kingdom of Christ.  Having the Holy Spirit ISN'T manifested in some cherry-picked singular event torn out of context and applied to today, but rather having the Holy Spirit is manifested in a changed life that by its very existence becomes a light unto the World -- first its immediate world and also to the entire world.

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