Tensions With Traditional Protestantism

The rapid rise of Pentecostalism has not been without controversy. The movement is unquestionably a form of Protestantism: it emerged historically from the American holiness tradition, and it emphasizes the place of the Bible in Christian life and tradition. Like all Protestant groups, Pentecostalism affirms the authority of the Bible with a specific and distinctive way of interpreting the text that attaches particular importance to the role of the Holy Spirit in interpreting the Bible and in guiding and empowering the individual. Pentecostalism regularly affirms a commitment to the acceptance of the real and present work of the Holy Spirit through gifts and signs as imparted to believers for service and witness.

This commitment has given rise to a tension that is often characterized as "word versus spirit." Classical Protestantism holds that God's will and purposes are revealed only through the written text of the Bible; Pentecostalism recognizes the role of "words of knowledge" to individual believers, which may be important for the community as a whole. For traditional Protestants, this approach seems to devalue the place of the Bible in the Christian life; for Pentecostals, the older approaches limit God's capacity to reveal himself to individuals through his Spirit.

Classical Protestantism is also uneasy about Pentecostalism's idea of "baptism in the Spirit," which it regards as inadequately grounded in the Bible. Most charismatics believe that a Christian receives the Holy Spirit at conversion but does not receive the fullness of the Spirit until later, through baptism in the Holy Spirit, in which he or she receives a full empowerment for Christian service. Baptism in the Holy Spirit is thus seen as a second work of grace after conversion. Traditional Protestant theology does not accept this framework, which is also encountered in the holiness tradition, holding instead that all Christians are baptized in the Holy Spirit at conversion.

A more serious concern has arisen over what many traditional Protestants see as the non-trinitarian understandings of the Holy Spirit associated with one or two Pentecostal groups. Although these groups are not typical of the movement as a whole, their critics regard them as indicative of the movement's theological trends and patterns of thought. "Oneness" Pentecostals—sometimes referred to as "Jesus Only" charis-matics by their critics—insist upon the unity of God (as seen in the "Shema"; Deuteronomy 6:4) and regard the classical idea of the Trinity as introducing division within the Godhead.

The United Pentecostal Church International (UPCI) thus differs significantly from the Assemblies of God (AoG) and other classic Pentecostal churches through its declaration that it "views the Trinitarian concept of God, that of God eternally existing as three distinctive persons, as inadequate and a departure from the consistent and emphatic biblical revelation of God being one." In its place, the UPCI offers a doctrine of God that classical Protestantism—and the vast majority of Pentecostals—regard as a form of modalism, a trinitarian heresy rejected by the early church. Thus, the UPCI states that "God is manifested as Father in creation and as the Father of the Son, in the Son for our redemption, and as the Holy Spirit in our regeneration"—a view usually referred to and rejected as "Sabellianism."28

A final area in which traditional Protestantism has expressed concern about Pentecostalism concerns a strand of thought that has emerged in a significant number of its churches—namely, that being right with God ensures health and wealth. Leading American exponents of this approach within the Pentecostal tradition include Oral Roberts and Benny Hinn. This "prosperity gospel" is capable of being stated in a number of ways; its most fundamental theme, however, is that "being poor or ill is a sin, when God promises prosperity and health."29 This "name-it-and-claim-it" theology causes many, both Pentecostals and traditional Protestants, serious theological problems. After all, Jesus Christ was not wealthy in any sense of the term, and his crucifixion is hardly consistent with the idea that God blesses the faithful with long lives and the evasion of suffering.

While many traditional Protestants are uneasy about the rise of Pen-tecostalism, there is a growing appreciation of its merits and a willingness to work with it in programs of outreach, pastoral care, and political and social action. This naturally leads us to explore what the longer-term impact of the movement on Protestantism might be.

Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment