October 5, 2014 The Fourth Wave

What is God doing in the church? 

In the global church?

Did you know that the center of Christianity is no longer Europe and North America? The center has moved to southern Africa and Latin America.  The church is growing fastest here, the Pentecostal Church is a major part of that growth, and pentecostalism influences nearly every denomination in these regions, according to Amos Yong, a foremost Pentecostal theologian and missiologist.

I heard Amos speak at Trinity Lutheran Seminary last Thursday about Pentecostalism and Lutheranism. I went because I have had a number of pentecostal influences in my life and most of them have been incompatible with Lutheranism.  My seminary is having a Pentecostal speak at its most significant theological continuing event of the year? Unbelievable!

I was fascinated by his personal story. He was born in Malaysia to Chinese parents, both of whom served as pastors of a Pentecostal Church. When he was ten his parents were called to serve a Chinese Pentecostal church in California, where they still serve. He said, “As a teenager, this bought about an identity crises; for what was I? Pentecostal? Chinese? Malaysian? Californian? When I spoke to my father about it, he said—as any good Pentecostal will say—‘You’re Christian. That’s it. That’s all.’”

“And yet,” Amos said,  “as I studied sociology  in college I discovered that it was not that simple.  I discovered, for example, that many of my family patterns were modeled on the Confucian Chinese teachings which had been modeled and passed down for a thousand years.  So I decided to get a master in theology and discover my roots, and in particular the roots of Pentecostalism, which has been such a strong influence in my life.”

As part of his presentation Amos gave a brief history of Pentecostalism in America.  It began in 1900, with Charles Parham, an American evangelist and faith healer, leading the three-year-long Azusa Street Revival in Los Angeles, California, which resulted in the spread of Pentecostalism throughout the United States and the rest of the world.  Pentecostalism emphasized a conversion experience,, water baptism by immersion as a sign of faith, and Baptism in the Spirit, which was signified by the speaking in tongues.  The strictest Pentecostals taught that you did not have the Holy Spirit until you spoke in tongues.  Healing by divine intervention is also a major hallmark of classic Pentecostalism. Denominations that consider them selves Pentecostal include any that name themselves such, the Assembly of God, and the Church of God in Christ.

The Charismatic Movement had its origins in the 60’s and 70’s as many mainline denominations (Episcopal, Roman Catholic, Lutheran) had members experience pentecostal type experiences but remained within their denomination.  Speaking in tongues become one of nine “Spirit” gifts but not required for a person to be “Baptized in the Holy Spirit,” which was usually described as an intense experience of God’s presence.  In keeping with their sacramental roots, these persons understood that the Holy Spirit came at baptism but could “fill” a Christian.  Consequently, they often described themselves as “Spirit-Filled Christians.”  
A local charismatic church is the River of Life in Butler.

(The Charismatic Movement was a strong part of my college years. Over the years I have struggled to integrate these experiences with my Lutheran background, heritage and training.)

In the 1980’s the evangelical church began to be influenced by the Charismatic Movement and Pentecostalism.  The evangelical church emphasizes being “born again” as a person recognizes that he or she is a sinner, asks “Jesus into his or her heart,” and is baptized by immersion. Biblical inerrancy, the authority of the Scriptures, and a mission to convert the “unsaved from hell” are strong emphases of evangelicals. Billy Graham is the quintessential evangelical.  Nearly all of the churches in the Clear Fork Area are evangelical of one variety or another.

The sticking point for evangelicals was speaking in tongues, for the traditional evangelical teaching was that this was a part of an early dispensation of the Spirit that lapsed with the death of the apostles.  However, as evangelicals found much in common with Pentecostals, such as biblical inerrancy and the authority of the Scriptures, they began to speak of a filling of the Holy Spirit.  In contrast to the Charismatics who described it as a one time experience, evangelicals said that there were multiple fillings as the Holy Spirit was “poured out” like water filling a glass. Speaking in tongues became known as a “prayer language,” reserved for private practice and not a part of the worship service as is the case with Pentecostals. Instead of the nine gifts of the Spirit, found in I Corinthians 12, claimed by Pentecostals and Charismatics, these neo-charismatics said that there were many other gifts of the spirit such as those listed in Romans 12. Peter Wagner called this the “Third Wave of the Spirit.”
The Vineyard churches or, locally, CitiChurch are examples of a Third Wave Church.

Amos Yong said some people even speak of a fourth wave or a fifth wave, but I think that what he said that was most significant is: small “p” pentecostalism has had influences where big “P” Pentecostalism is not welcome. Dr. Cheryl Peterson summed it up when she said, “Start with the Holy Spirit.” That is the influence of Pentecostalism.

So what about us?  Where do we fit in all this?

The gift of the Lutheran faith tradition is that we claim that doctrine matters and that the most important doctrine is the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ.  Doctrines, of course, are what we believe and teach about God. We teach that God loves us, made us alive with Jesus Christ, by grace we have been saved through faith, and that God created us in Christ Jesus for good works which God prepared to be our way of life. Ephesians 2:4-9 paraphrased.
We stress that all of this is the work of the Holy Spirit within us, as Martin Luther in his explanation of the third article of the Apostles’ Creed says, we are called, gathered, sanctified, and kept by the Holy Spirit in the one true faith.

Because of our emphasis upon right teaching, however, there is a suspicion of something that is merely emotional or based upon inadequate theology. The tension is between what we can know theologically and what we can experience spiritually.

When we can be open to both, our great theological tradition and to the movement of the Spirit in its variety of diverse forms, then we can be part of the fourth wave, or maybe the fifth, or the sixth, or...


Barb HooverComment