Posts Tagged ‘Pentecostal’

Dear Pentecostals and Charismatics,

If you know me, you know I am one of you. I am an associate pastor at a Pentecostal church. I volunteer with Chi Alpha, the Assemblies of God college ministry. A Pentecostal church was founded in my paternal grandmother’s home. At times I have even undertaken to defend our doctrines from cessationist critics.

Yet I’m an awkward Pentecostal. I don’t really fit in very well. I stand between two families of Christians, Pentecostals and charismatics on one hand, and my more reformed Baptist and Presbyterian brothers and sisters on the other hand. This is not a normal place to be. My reformed friends find my belief in the gifts a curiosity, an enigma, an outlier and anomaly. My Pentecostal and charismatic friends find my Calvinism to be strange, if not antithetical to Pentecostalism itself. This despite the fact that the Pentecostal and charismatic movements have always been highly ecumenical, spanning denominational boundaries and finding homes in a vast array of theological contexts.

Continue reading here.

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Growing up Pentecostal I always held intellectually to various aspects of Pentecostal doctrine. Of course most notably were the doctrines that distinguish Pentecostalism from other theological camps. Among these doctrines are our beliefs about Baptism in the Holy Spirit (BHS) with initial physical evidence (IPE) of speaking in tongues (SIT). And of course this leads to the belief that the miraculous working of the Holy Spirit through the Church at large and individual believers in particular did not cease, but instead has continued to the present time and will continue until the return of Christ.

It’s a fine set of doctrine that I hold to today. But over the years I have grown concerned about the discrepancy between our doctrine and our practice. That is, our orthodoxy is not translating to sound orthopraxy.

It does precious little good to believe intellectually that the Holy Spirit works today in a way parallel with His work in the book of Acts unless that intellectual belief is translated into practical application. As debate about the nature of the work of the Holy Spirit increases, even in some of our most dedicated Pentecostal fellowships, I am led the the belief that the cause of many’s doubt about the present-day work of the Holy Spirit is rooted in being told they should expect to see Him move but never actually seeing it happen.

In such a circumstance one is led to believe that either the doctrine itself was wrong, or one’s experience is wrong. Given the vividness of personal experience, it is generally the doctrine that is discarded.

But this has led me to a problem. For I believe the Bible is inspired, inerrant, and infallible. What it teaches is true. And having considered arguments from every perspective, and doing much study on my own, I’m led to the conviction that the Bible teaches the Holy Spirit should be just as active in the Church today as He was in the first century. Thus the problem lies not with our doctrine of the Holy Spirit, but with our ability to live it out in practicality.

Leonard Ravenhill once commented that one of these days somebody is going to pick up the Bible, believe it, act on it, and put the rest of us to shame. I have often wondered what the result would be if we simply acted in faith on God’s Word.

Having read the history of my beloved Pentecostal movement I believe such a conviction is what led Charles Parham to challenge his students in Topeka to search the Scriptures regarding evidence for Baptism in the Holy Spirit. Surely we cannot believe that the Holy Spirit moved so powerfully just one hundred years ago only to let the Church wallow in spiritual stagnancy in the present time. Surely we cannot believe that God has stopped working.

Yet we will continue to go to services, simply going through the motions ritualistically while we generally lack the supernatural and transformative work of the Holy Spirit. I’m afraid that most people claiming to be believers have very low expectations regarding the Church, and outside of the work of the Holy Spirit it is only logical to expect this. Without the Holy Spirit the Church is not a living entity, but is instead a corpse of spiritual deadness.

At any given point I believe we are just one prayer and one act of faith away from seeing the Church rise from it’s dullness into the vibrant Body of Christ it is meant to be. The time is now for us to act by the authority of Christ, to believe that we can and must do what He says we can do, that we can the Body He has called us to be. We cannot put our faith in new strategies or methodologies. These are but tools to be used by a living Body, they cannot bring such a Body to life. For that we need the Holy Spirit working through Spirit-filled men and women.

With love,
Josiah

This is a transcript of a sermon I preached on June 22, 2008

The Biblical Church

“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” -Acts 2:42-47, NIV

Background: Luke writes Acts around 60-62 A.D., basically as a historical tracing of the first 30 years of the Church. In tracing this history Luke explains and defends the Church, and also guides faith and practice (Adams et. Al.). This passage is one of the most well-known as a guide for practices in the Church, and it also provides details about the beginning of the Church’s witnessing in Jerusalem. Immediately prior to this passage we have the outpouring of the Spirit and Peter’s open-air evangelistic message that results in 3,000 people being added to the Church in just one day.

We can summarize what Luke is doing this way: The Church begins with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at the beginning of this chapter. Immediately Peter begins fulfilling the Great Commission by preaching the Gospel. With this evangelism and the establishment of the Church we must look at where does the Church go from here, that is, what do we as members of the Church do once we accept Christ?

We are told the new found Church devoted themselves to the Apostle’s teachings, to fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer. The idea of devotion in the Greek shows us they were “earnest towards, constantly diligent, attended assiduously to all the exercises, adhered closely to”. Think about that, they were constantly diligent in the Apostles teachings. They attended assiduously (with care and persistence) to prayer. They were earnest towards fellowship. These aren’t just some suggestions, this is what the early Church did. They were highly committed to these things.

The first of these things was the Apostle’s Teachings. There is a great parallel between the Great Commission and the events transpiring here: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” -Matthew 28:19-20. Peter preaches the Gospel in an initial sermon, and immediately we have the new Church being taught the Way. The new Church was instructed as to how to follow Jesus.

Today’s Church has missed on this instruction. The Church today is simply not training believers how to follow Christ. The Great Commission commands us to make disciples of all nations and to teach them to obey everything Christ has commanded us. Consider that 90% of Americans own a Bible, but only half can name a single Gospel; and 10% think Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife (Nancy Gibbs). It would seem to me we’ve failed on the teaching part.

While over 60% of Americans believe the Bible is the Word of God, only 35% believe it is the literal Word of God (I’m not sure if parables caused confusion here), we may have a problem. This is really an unfortunate thing. The Epistles were all written to provide some type of instruction. The Word trains us in righteousness and thoroughly equips us for every good work (II Timothy 3:16-17). If we fail at learning the Word, if we don’t continue in the Apostles teachings, if we don’t become disciples, everything else will deteriorate as a result of being on a weak foundation and having no roots.

Some would argue at this point “Well we have Sunday School, and we have sermons, etc…” I agree, but I also think those things are failing. Most Sunday school classes prefer to spoon-feed the Saints rather than get into the meat of the Word of God. Sermons have been reduced to 3-point strategies no longer than 45 minutes. I just read an article in Relevant Magazine where a journalist visited 6 different Churches over the course of 6 Sundays; when he visited a Pentecostal Church he complained because the sermon went over 45 minutes, and the other sermons had all been about 20 minutes. Honestly I wanted to go to that man and look him square in the face and tell him he sickened me.

In Acts 20 the Apostle Paul is in Troas, getting ready to leave, and he preached all through the night until daybreak. What would the American Church do if we were confronted with actually having to be students of the Word? The Church that started at Pentecost thrived, and at the heart of that thriving was their continuation in the Apostles teaching, passed on to us in the Bible. In I Peter 2:2 we are told that we, as newborn babies, should desire the milk of the Word, and that through it we will grow.

The reason there are so many false prophets, strange doctrines, and private interpretations being popularized today is 1. People don’t know the Word, and therefore cannot spot false teachings; and 2. Those that do know the Word have failed to teach it to others and rebuke false prophets. There are people today (“cough… Joel Osteen…cough…Benny Hinn…cough”) teaching the strangest things, God can’t move on your behalf until you think positively; there are 3 levels to the anointing, etc… These are some pretty wacko doctrines! But the Church can’t recognize them because it has not continued in the Apostles teaching, we’ve not continued in the Message of Christ, and therefore the Church is being led astray. If we in the Church ever want to thrive like the Apostolic Church did, we must return to the Word of God that they preached!

We’ve lost a true expression of Biblical fellowship: Biblical fellowship, according the David Guzik, is about sharing something. Today we in the Church share, but I think we’re sharing the wrong things. We share gossip, we share feuds, we share anger, we share bitterness, we share mutual dislike, we share complaints, we share plenty, but we’re sharing all the wrong things! We ought to be sharing our lives, made common by the Savior and Lord we all share! If we share our struggles, we can share in rejoicing our victories!

Let’s look at this in context, Luke says they continued in fellowship, and he says they were together, had everything in common (all things were shared by all, in the Greek), sold their possessions and gave as others had need, met in the Temple courts, broke bread in their homes, praised together, and enjoyed the favor of all people. That’s a lot of stuff they were doing. The idea we get is they were always sharing their lives, always working with each other. Today we might say there were joined at the hips.

Fellowship was much more to the early believers than a 5 minute meet-and-greet at the beginning of each service. It was much more than a meal at Christmas and Resurrection Sunday time. How many times have we gone over to someone’s house with the intention of taking communion and praising God? Honestly the Church has set up such a hierarchy I think most people would be afraid to give communion because we haven’t given them a fancy enough title yet.

The early Church shared everything with each other.
The benefits of fellowship cannot be under-estimated. Fellowship provides accountability. It provides support. It helps intensify our heart for God. It provides a place of security and openness. It provides a place to receive prayer when we’re sick and struggling. The list goes on and on.

Now I must separate breaking of bread from fellowship. Breaking of bread was part of their fellowship, but it’s also a distinct activity. Sadly, we’ve reduced it to a monthly ritual with little meaning. That is not, however, what communion is meant to be. To be as brief as possible, but still capture the essential meaning of communion I’ll quote a song:
“This is the body, this is the blood, Broken and poured out for all of us
In this communion, we share in His love, This is the body, this is the blood.
I will remember, everything Lord, You’ve done for me. I won’t take for granted the sacrifice that set me free. I hunger and thirst for Your love, come fill me today. This is the body, this is the blood. Broken and poured out for all of us. In this communion we share in His love, this is the body this is the blood.”

We are to do this in remembrance of our Lord (I Corinthians 11:25). We remember His sacrifice, we remember that His body was beaten and His blood was spilled so that we could be cleansed from all our unrighteousness. What Christ did is anything but ritual. Christ’s death and resurrection is the pivotal point in human history! As His followers we must remember what He did for us. In doing this I think it would be hard to follow Christ irreverently, or in word only in a dry and ritual way. When we realize what Christ has done for us we have no choice but to respond decisively and radically. On the other hand, if we fail to remember what Christ has done for us, then we will live as if He’s done nothing.

Just imagine gathering at each other’s homes to fellowship and break bread. It should not be a rare occurrence during Holiday seasons. Fellowshipping and breaking of bread should be sincere and it should be often. Let us bare in mind that these things are not suggestions, they are mandates.

Now we are told the early Church was devoted to prayer. I think today’s Church has failed when it comes to prayer.
Our failure has been 2-fold: 1. We don’t pray often enough. 2. We don’t understand what prayer is, so when we do pray it’s nearly meaningless.

As far as not praying often enough I’ve heard different accounts. Some assert the average American prays 2 minutes/day; while the average Christian prays 4 minutes each day and the average pastor prays a whopping 7 minutes each day. An Ellison Research Group study showed more favorable numbers, stating that the average Protestant minister prays 39 minutes each day, among those Pentecostal ministers compare favorably, averaging 47 minutes a day. Our pastors may be doing alright, but the overall population isn’t doing so hot.

Time, thank God, isn’t a very good measure of prayer. I think a good measure of prayer is the relationship one has with Jesus. Prayer is the key to intimacy with Christ, and as a result it would seem to me we could gauge the quality of one’s prayer life based on one’s relationship with the Lord. Here statistics fail, because to ask “are you in a good relationship with Christ” is to ask a question that will mean 1,000 different things to a thousand different people.

At any rate we think wrongly about prayer. We think it’s like a lottery, or we think of God as a magic genie waiting to grant our every whim. Prayer should not simply be a laundry list of things we want God to do for us, rather it should be conversing with God; seeking His face, searching for His guidance, discoursing about His will.

What individual topics will be addressed in prayer varies from person to person. As a student my campus comes up a lot. True prayer aligns us with God’s will, and once the Church starts walking in God’s will the Church will be unstoppable.

Now that we’ve examined these 4 marks of the early Church, we are told of their results. We are told there were wonders and miraculous signs. We are told the believers had everything in common. We are told they praised God. We are told they had the favor of all men.

It should come as no surprise we don’t see this when we realize we’re not continuing in the way of the early Church. If we don’t continue in the Apostle’s teachings (as given in the Bible), if we don’t continue in fellowship, if we don’t continue in breaking bread and prayer how can we expect anything good to come out of the Church?

Instead of a vibrant Church we’ve got one that accepts humanistic and selfish doctrines, teaching that God was made to serve us. This is not what the Apostles taught. Instead of fellowship we’ve got an embittered, angry, and greedy Church. We think of relationships in economic terms. We invest in people, we value others, etc… I thank God He doesn’t think of us economically, if He did Christ would have never bought us.

We don’t praise like we should because we don’t think of God like we should. We don’t remember Christ’s sacrifice. We don’t realize how much He loves us. We don’t think of Him as the Lord of all Creation. If we did all these things we’d always have an attitude of praise and a heart of worship.

And if we fail in prayer how can we expect God to use us? How can we expect to see wonders and miracles? If we’re not walking with God how will we ever know when to pray or who to pray for or what to pray about? We have to be close to God and allow Him to show us these things, but if we don’t devote ourselves to prayer we’re cutting ourselves off at the root.

If the Church ever wants to see a true expression of worship, if the Church wants effective discipleship, if the Church wants vibrant ministry, if we want evangelism to flourish, if we want genuine fellowship, we’ve got to get back to the basics.

Now I’m tired of everyone sitting through the sermon saying “amen” and nodding your heads. God doesn’t just want your lip service, He wants your hands and your heart. God’s Word has practical application in our lives, and I think the Church has good theory but poor application. I can’t apply prayer to your life. I can’t make you fellowship. I can’t make you break bread. I can’t make you worship. How you come to apply all these things is something you’ll need to pray about and seek God’s face on. I’ve done my part in exposing you to the teachings of the Apostles.