— Pentecostal Breeding Grounds
In 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.
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
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
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?
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
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.,
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.
In the U.S.A. it is common to see such astounding messages on church
notice boards as "Revival here next week."