Originally posted as “A funny thing happened on the way to Pentecost“
This past weekend was Pentecost in the liturgical calendar. As one who emerged from a charismatic evangelical background and is now employed at a mainline church, this is my favorite Sunday of the whole year!
Here are just 3 funny things about Pentecost Sunday:
Charismatics don’t celebrate it. Because the large majority of Pentecostal & Charismatic churches don’t follow the liturgical year, this Sunday goes unnoticed in any special way. It is just another rockin’ week of worship songs! I find that hilarious. When you exist in a context that does not observe Lent (or even Advent) then both Easter and Pentecost are just one more occasion for ‘feasting’. This is a glory theology and neither fasting nor waiting are on the menu (speaking in generalities).
It’s tough to be a Christian and get away from it. Reading the Bible as a white-westerner can cause disorientation and cognitive dissonance. In the Gospel of Mark, fully 65% of Jesus’ ministry was based around miracles, mostly healing and exorcism. If you are going to read the Bible, it is going to be tough to get around just how much time and effort the writers spend on this element of ministry. But if you are part of an educated (enlightenment) tradition that is primarily intellectual about faith … you may have never seen a miraculous healing, exorcism, or manifestation of God’s power. Most of things we call ‘answers to prayer’ are slightly amplified coincidence – like getting a job you applied for and were qualified for or finding it in your heart to forgive someone which brought about reconciliation.
Africa, Asia and South America are foreign to us. We hear lots and lots of reports from the Southern Hemisphere about the explosion of Pentecostal and Charismatic (P&C) Signs and Wonders movements (S&W). Many are calling it ‘the Future of Christianity’. It is tough to argue with when you compare it to the decline in church attendance in Europe and N. America, the overly analytical and often paralyzed intellectual brand of church that is embarrassed at both the zeal and simplicity of the fundamentalist and evangelical branches of the family.
Here are my two hesitations about the southern hemisphere being the future of the church:
1) As many have noted, the latest turn in the P&C movement is one toward the ‘Prosperity Gospel’ and the wildly demonstrative ‘Signs & Wonders’ movement where the spectacular and the sensational are prized above all else! (including Biblical precedent). This is an ominous turn. I am deeply suspicious that with the rise of global capitalism, deregulated markets and multi-national corporations’ economic and environmental policies … the prosperity ‘blessing’ might be a one-generation phenomenon with a vicious cynical backlash waiting behind it. This bubble will burst and both the pain and disillusionment will be inconsolable.
2) ‘The weirder the better’ is an ugly mantra. I recently talked to a traveling Charismatic evangelist who was disappointed that his most recent rally did not have more pizzaz. Sure good things happened and people reported both salvations, significant personal growth (like forgiveness) and a couple of minor healing (anorexia, etc.) But nothing really demonstrative or spectacular. That is not the part that caught my attention (I am used to that). It was the reasoning behind it.
“ If you come from a background where you have never seen Signs & Wonders then you are less likely for it to happen to you. Seeing it happen creates something in you – a faith or an openness – that allows God to do it with you.”
I was stunned. Did he really just say that if you have never seen it, that it is less likely to happen? Well, actually that makes a lot of sense. If you have never seen someone be ‘slain in the Spirit’ then you may be less likely to go to the ground when prayed for (ever heard of ‘carpet time’?). This is where testimony and teaching are SO valuable.
Now the funny thing is that this dear minister has no idea that I have Lindbeck & MacIntyre ringing in my head like alarm bells at a fire station! I wanted to say ‘Language not only helps us interpret experience … our language helps create our experience.”
Those two things – the Prosperity turn in the South and the awareness of language/experience – are the two things that keep me from being 100% stoked about the future of Pentecost. – Bo Sanders
If you would like to read an interesting book on the subject, check out Philip Jenkins’ The New Faces of Christianity: Believing the Bible in the Global South