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Editorial — Pentecostal Breeding Grounds

Church BuildingsIn the preceding issue of Present Truth Magazine ("Justification by Faith and the Charismatic Movement"), we examined the Pentecostal movement in the light of the evangel of the apostles and Reformers. Weighed in the balances of the gospel, the movement was found wanting. But we hasten to point out that we cannot wash our own hands in innocency nor even patronizingly say, "There go I but for the grace of God."

The charismatic movement has its roots in all the established churches. We may take pride in our orthodoxy and detest the pretensions of the gift of tongues, but, as Protestant bodies in general, we have operated the breeding grounds of Pentecostalism. The self-condemning truth may not be welcome. Israel could cheer Amos as long as he was rebuking the sins of Damascus, Gaza, Ashkelon, Edom or Moab (see Amos 1 and 2). But when he finally got around to saying, "Thus saith the Lord; For three transgressions of Israel, and for four. . . ," they were quick to think of ways to get the humble herdsman back to Tekoa.

The Heresy of Formal Orthodoxy

Those who are fiercely loyal to orthodox Protestantism should realize that sometimes formal orthodoxy is the worst of all heresies. The period that followed the Reformers was known as the period of orthodoxy. While it produced some good theology, it produced a dead church and made the reaction of Pietism inevitable.

Orthodoxy tends to confound correctness of belief and saving faith. It confuses its statement of truth with the living Truth itself. Faith is directed to an orthodox body of doctrine more than to the person of Jesus Christ. Thus faith becomes intellectualized. This process happened in the early church after the apostles passed off the stage. It also happened after the generation of the Reformers.

A minister once asked a celebrated actor why people crowded the theater and stage instead of the church. He replied, "You preachers talk about real things as if they were imaginary, but we talk about imaginary things as if they were real."

Many people cannot endure the dead formality of the "good old" church. Some of them have endured religion as a child endures medicine — it is awful to take. Now there appears to be some life and vitality in the charismatic movement. Who can blame them for becoming disillusioned with churches where sleepy preachers preach to sleepy people?

In view of the threat, many ministers are adopting the motto, "If you can't beat them, join them." So they think it expedient to bring the whole charismatic circus, with its religious rock, tongues and fantastic religious hallucinations, right into the church.

Of course, some ministers do not intend to compete with the "instant prophets" in their churches. They are determined to keep to the "good old path." Unfortunately, they may be left chasing the devil on a bicycle while he is in an airplane.

Pentecostalism may be a plague and a heresy, but is it any worse than a dead orthodoxy, where scarcely the living breath of heaven ever stirs? How can we self-righteously condemn Pentecostal ism when we breed Pentecostalism?

Lack of Gospel Zeal

Enthusiasm has become a bad word in most orthodox circles. It conjures up visions of the radical evangelicals of the sixteenth century (whom Luther called "the enthusiasts"), hotheaded revivalists within the holiness movement, and emotional Pentecostals. Suppose we could listen to the first Christians proclaim the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Would it not be possible that we would charge them, as Robert Walpole charged Wesley, with a "very ugly enthusiasm"?

The editors of Present Truth Magazine submit that the apostle Paul did not turn the world upside down by giving dry (though correct) theological lectures. His was a living, moving message of a crucified, risen and returning Saviour. He spoke with a passion of soul as well as in the power of the Spirit. The disciples who discovered Jesus after their walk to Emmaus, did not bore the other disciples with a homily of "firstly," "secondly" and "thirdly."

We should make no apologies for declaring that the gospel is still the most exciting news ever heard among men. Jesus is the Pearl of great price; the gospel is a treasure hid in a field. Christ has taken away sin, conquered death and given us eternal life. Who can sincerely declare this without enthusiasm?

Let it be remembered that Laodicea, the last Apocalyptic church, is condemned, not for heresy, but for having no fire in her soul. She is neither cold nor hot, and the divine Lover is nauseated. He reproves her for lack of zeal (Rev. 3:19).

The healthy enthusiasm that Christ calls for in His last message to His church is not to be confused with Pentecostal enthusiasm. Pentecostals rave about what they suppose the Spirit is doing in their lives. To use the words of one publication, "The Jesus kids are very excited about what the Holy Spirit is doing in their lives." This sort of enthusiasm is unhealthy because it is so subjective, introspective, and uplifting to the ego. (Pride is never so high as when it has a startling religious experience to relate.) Now it cannot be denied that the apostles were enthusiastic. But their enthusiasm was in something objective. Theirs was the good news of what God had done for them in Christ. "And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus." Acts 4:33.

The gospel is still tidings of great joy for all people (Luke 2:10). The alternatives should not be lukewarm Christianity or the enthusiasm of Pentecostalism. The question should be whether our enthusiasm is in our own experience or in the glory of God's saving activity in Christ.

Failure to Uphold the Centrality of Justification by Faith

It is well known that Luther described the doctrine of justification by faith as articulus stantis vel cadentis ecclesiae, the article of faith that decides whether the church is standing or falling. It is not sufficient to have it stated as one of the doctrines in our creed. Luther meant that it was to be the central truth that swallowed up every other. Many will profess to believe in justification by faith. They may sound quite correct; but for them it is only the initial step in the Christian life. It ceases to be the center; for other things, like Christian experience, sanctification or the Spirit-filled life, subordinate justification in their thinking, writing and preaching.

The New Catholic Encyclopedia points out that Protestantism today still teaches justification by faith but that its place and emphasis are generally a far cry from the place and emphasis given it by the Reformers. How true! American Protestantism, generally speaking, has forgotten the real theology of justification. The emphasis is so orientated toward experience that most Protestants do not know the difference between the outside work of God's justifying verdict upon the fallen sinner and the inward change of the new birth wrought by the Holy Spirit.

The primacy and centrality of justification by an extrinsic (outside) righteousness up in heaven is almost like a new language to many today. Some have so concentrated on the inward experience of being born again (trying to find their eternal security in the inward experience of the new birth) that they have almost no theology of justification. Others often get hung up on the definition which relegates justification "for the sins of the past." Aside from the fact that this definition is based on a mistranslation of Romans 3:25, it tends to subordinate justification to what is supposed to be the "higher experience" of sanctification. Hence justification is relegated to the past and fails to be an abiding, central truth.

J.I. Packer has well said in his introduction to a reprint of Buchanan's thesis on justification:

    "If we may judge by the size of its literary output, there has never been an age of such feverish theological activity as the past hundred years; yet amid all its multifarious theological concerns it did not produce a single book of any size on the doctrine of justification. If all we knew of the church during the past century was that it had neglected the subject of justification in this way, we should already be in a position to conclude that this has been a century of religious apostasy and decline."—J.I. Packer, Introduction to The Doctrine of Justification, by James Buchanan (reprinted by The Banner of Truth Trust, 1961), p.2.

Wherever and whenever the truth of justification by faith is preached, the Holy Spirit is present to renew God's people and to bring the breath of heaven into the church. By it the garden of God is watered, new life springs up and fruit is born to the glory of God. If we may reason from effect back to cause, we may confidently say that the generally sad condition of Protestantism is the result of a neglect of the truth of justification. And for this we are being punished with the plague of Pentecostalism.

Revivalist-Holiness Mentality

Some may be thinking, "Let us meet the issue of Pentecostalism by having a revival in our church." Aside from the vanity of men thinking that they can have a revival in their church any time they choose (as if they can call in the Holy Spirit like an obedient servant1), it should be observed that Pentecostal ism is the end result of a revivalist mentality that has grown up in Protestant America for more than one hundred years. Says Vinson Synan in his recently published book, The Holiness-Pentecostal Movement in the United States:

    "The pentecostal movement arose as a split in the holiness movement and can be viewed as the logical outcome of the holiness crusade which had vexed American Protestantism for forty years . . . —(Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1971), p.115.

    "Basically, the pentecostal movement is an heir of the frontier, enthusiastic type of religion that has been indigenous to the American religious experience. It is probably the only large group in the United States that continues to exhibit the fervor and enthusiasm so common during the Great Awakening, the Kentucky revivals, and the Methodist camp meetings. It also is an attempt to perpetuate the doctrine of perfectionism which dominated Protestantism during the nineteenth century, as well as the tradition of revivalism that loomed so large in the last century and the early part of the twentieth century." —Ibid., p.223.

In the "good old" frontier days, people received their religion with great color and excitement. The essence of "good" preaching was to produce a great emotional response from the congregation. Whether the preaching was for the first blessing of conversion or the "second blessing" of full sanctification, the overwhelming emphasis tended toward the attainment of an experience that could be seen, heard or felt. The emphasis was on an empirical experience rather than on the righteousness which is of faith, on a subjective happening rather than on the objective gospel. As Catholic scholar Louis Bouyer points out in The Spirit and Forms of Protestantism, the revivals generally are the antithesis of the Reformation message of justification by an imputed righteousness; in fact, as he further points out, they are tending to bring the Protestant movement into basic harmony with the Catholic Church. Pentecostalism merely carries on the tradition of American revivalism, offering people the ultimate of what many revivals have promised a tangible, empirical and exciting religious happening. Revivalism, as generally carried on, breeds Pentecostalism, even though the revivalist may violently oppose "tongues."

The same thing may be said about the holiness movement. Both Protestant and Catholic historians recognize that the modern Pentecostal movement grew out of the holiness movement which swept American Protestantism in the nineteenth century. "Holiness" groups still exist; "holiness" theology and "holiness" books are still being circulated by the millions today. The propagators of the "holiness" emphasis may be opposed to Pentecostals, but the fact is that, in their fundamental emphasis, their theology is the same. They may differ in the form that the "second blessing" may take, but the religious philosophy is the same.

"Holiness" theology is characterized by its supreme emphasis on Christian experience—"the Spirit-filled life," "the victorious life," etc. God's work in man supplants the gospel of God's work for man. Justification is not the center of its message. Sanctification or the Spirit-filled life or "Christ in you," etc., supplants the centrality of justification. Often it takes the form of advocating a definite "second blessing," something which is supposed to be much better and greater than justification. The emphasis is orientated to man and to his experience. It is overwhelmingly introspective and subjective. It sets people to earnestly watching their spiritual temperature and constantly taking their spiritual pulse. It has made its thousands of spiritual hypochondriacs. And their witness is occupied with the "Christ" in them and the feelings of sanctity or exploits of holiness he causes them to experience. People who set out on this course can never be quite sure when they have this special second blessing. Here Pentecostalism comes in to provide a tangible answer. It proposes that the "second blessing" may be known by the physically observable phenomenon of "speaking in tongues." As long as revivalists and youth crusaders orientate people toward their own experience, they will further the Pentecostal movement even though they cry out ever so loudly against it.

Finally, we say that, unless we participate in a genuine awakening and recovery of the central truth of the Reformation, we will have no resources before today's onslaught of religious subjectivism. And if we betray the secret of Protestantism's strength to the Delilah of ecumenism, we shall be shorn and humiliated in the coming test of strength. 

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1 In the U.S.A. it is common to see such astounding messages on church notice boards as "Revival here next week."