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The Burning Passion of the Current Religious Scene

In the last few years great changes have taken place in three branches of the Christian church – Pentecostalism, Romanism, and Evangelicalism.

1. Pentecostalism

The modern Pentecostal movement is an off-shoot of the American holiness movement. It made its appearance in this country in 1900. One of its leaders has called it "the greatest ecstatic movement in the history of the Christian church." It is distinguished by its overwhelming emphasis on experience – often called the baptism in the Holy Spirit. This baptism is usually, if not always, identified by ecstatic speech, which Pentecostals call the gift of tongues." This gift of tongues is regarded as the sign that one is baptized in the Holy Spirit.

Before 1960 Pentecostalism was a movement outside the mainstream of the Protestant church. It was very sectarian, and most churches looked upon Pentecostalism as a divisive, offbeat type of religious fanaticism.

About 1960 Pentecostalism took a new turn. It began to jump denominational barriers. The ecstatic experience of speaking in tongues began to appear among conservative Episcopalians, orthodox Lutherans, staid Presbyterians – indeed there was hardly a Protestant church that escaped the Pentecostal invasion. This new interdenominational phase of Pentecostalism became known as neo-Pentecostalism, or the charismatic movement.

Whereas the old ("classical") Pentecostalism was regarded as a divisive and sectarian movement, neo-Pentecostalism appears to be uniting and non-sectarian. Demonstrating a new openness toward all branches of the church, the charismatic movement has the ability to break down nearly all denominational barriers. The Pentecostal experience seems to be available to people of vastly different religious traditions, to liberals or conservatives.

When the neo-Pentecostal movement was getting under way in the Los Angeles area in the early 1960's, I talked to an Assembly of God preacher about the phenomenon. He said, "We used to be the leaders in experiencing the baptism in the Holy Spirit, but not since the Spirit has visited the great historic and Protestant churches. I know an Episcopalian priest in this city who is so liberal he neither believes in the virgin birth nor the resurrection. Yet he has recently received the baptism in the Spirit and exhibits a marvelous power in his ministry." The Pentecostal preacher shrugged his shoulders and added, "I can't understand why God would give all that power to a fellow so far out on the liberal left."

A few months ago a group of Pentecostal Christadelphians invited me to talk to them. Christadelphians not only deny the divinity of Jesus Christ, but also his pre-existence before His birth in Bethlehem. They also deny the personality of the Holy Spirit. Yet here were a group of Christadelphians who claimed the baptism in the Holy Spirit and spoke with tongues.

I cite these cases to show that it makes no difference where one stands in the theological spectrum when it comes to participating in the Pentecostal experience. The "gift of the Spirit" seems to be available regardless of almost any denominational or doctrinal loyalty.

Since 1969 the Pentecostal movement has made a remarkable penetration into the Roman Catholic Church. Pentecostalism appears to be the first factor for more than 400 years which is able to bridge the gulf between Romanism and Protestantism. Dr. Henry van Dusen suggests that it has the potential of healing the wound of the sixteenth century. Pentecostals and Roman Catholics are no longer bitter religious rivals in South America. And all over the world Protestant and Catholic Pentecostals are meeting together to sing, "We are one in the Spirit." Says Christianity Today (Feb. 4, 1972, p. 8), "This movement [Pentecostalism) ..., is now becoming ecumenical in the deepest sense.

Speaking at the Presbyterian Charismatic Conference in March of 1973, the cardinal also said: Our unity has to be done quickly because the Holy Spirit is leading it, God is desiring it, and the world is in need, badly in need, of that visible unity. . . . I see the heads of the Christian churches coming together. . . . Let us come back home: home means the Upper Room, Pentecost. — Ibid., pp.8-9.

2. Romanism

In the last few years the Church of Rome has emerged with a new stance.

a. First, she appears to be more open to the Bible. Rome has allowed her people free access to the Bible; some of her scholars are foremost in Biblical studies; and Catholics have worked shoulder to shoulder with Protestants in producing new translations from the ancient Biblical texts.

Cardinal Suenensb. Second, Rome has, since 1967, shown a real openness toward the neo-Pentecostal movement. Thousands of her priests and nuns are embracing the charismatic movement. In June of this year, more than 20,000 Roman Catholic Pentecostals gathered at Notre Dame University for the seventh Charismatic Renewal Conference. One of the featured speakers was a powerful prince of the Church, Cardinal Suenens from Belgium. He came to give his enthusiastic approval to the charismatic movement within the Catholic Church. Said he:

The charismatic renewal has extraordinary ecumenical implications Many important breakthroughs are happening in a wonderful way in the charismatic renewal. It will be a great impetus for Christian unity. Christians of different churches need to experience themselves as belonging to the same family, as being brothers, and that is happening in the charismatic renewal. — New  Covenant, June, 1973, p.5.

The cardinal stood before the Presbyterians, holding the hands of two of their leaders (Jim Armstrong and Rodman Williams) and singing, "We are one in the Spirit."

c. Third, Rome has become far more open toward evangelicals. The Catholic Digest, July, 1972, presented a feature article lauding Dr. Billy Graham. The Jesuit author wrote, "Billy Graham is orthodox. I have read nothing by him that is contrary to Catholic faith." In some places priests are being instructed to become familiar in the use of evangelical terminology like "getting saved" or being "born again." Witness how Roman Catholics are now able to join with evangelicals in cooperative efforts like Key '73. This is neo-Romanism – marked by a new openness to the Bible, to Pentecostals and to evangelicals.

3. Evangelicalism

In the last few years a new evangelicalism has also emerged. Neo-evangelicalism began a few years ago with many worthy aspirations. It wished to avoid the obscurantism (anti-intellectualism), extreme Biblicism, and narrow separatism of the right wing fundamentalists. Evangelicals felt a real desire to enjoy fellowship with other evangelicals across denominational boundary lines.

Recently the neo-evangelical movement has shown an increasing openness and sympathy toward the charismatic movement. If we may take Christianity Today as representative of the neo-evangelical movement, we may discern a real warming of the relationship between evangelicals and Pentecostals. A few years ago Christianity Today was decidedly negative toward Pentecostalism. Then it became tolerant. Now it is very sympathetic. In February, 1972 Christianity Today said:

The force that appears to be making the greatest contribution to the current Christian revival around the globe is Pentecostalism. . . . A new era of the Spirit has begun. An evangelical renaissance is becoming visible along the Christian highway from the frontier of the sects to the high places of the Roman Catholic Communion.

Then in the September, 1973 issue, well-known evangelical scholar Clark H. Pinnock writes:

The new Pentecostal movement seems to this observer to be a genuine movement of the Spirit of God renewing His church…. It thrills my soul to see multitudes of people allowing the Spirit to operate freely in their midst.

Like many evangelicals, Dr. Pinnock expresses concern about the excesses of Pentecostalism, but one gets the feeling that if these periphery excesses could be trimmed away, all would be well between evangelicals and Pentecostals. We might therefore ask, Is the only difference between evangelicals and Pentecostals a difference of style? Degree of enthusiasm? Liturgical taste?

Evangelicals are also exhibiting a new openness toward Romanism. There is a great deal of optimism about the changes which appear to be taking place in the Roman Catholic Church. The June, 1973 issue of Christianity Today made this glowing appraisal of Rome's new openness to Pentecostalism:

Call it spiritual renewal, revival, or whatever, something big is happening in the Roman Catholic Church. . . . [Cardinal Suenens] told Christianity Today that he not only endorses the charismatic renewal as an authentic move of the Spirit, but also hopes it will become the mainstream of the Catholic Church.

A Threefold Union

Neo-Pentecostalism exhibits a new openness toward evangelicals and Roman Catholics. Neo-Romanism shows a new openness toward Pentecostals and evangelicals. Not to be outdone, neo-evangelicalism shows a new openness toward Pentecostals and Roman Catholics.

This "neo-trio" is moving closer and closer together in a growing bond of sympathy. There is a reason for this. Each of the "neo-trio" places a unique emphasis on inner experience. The uniting factor is that the message of each "neo" is the centrality of religious experience.

We choose the words carefully – “the centrality of religious experience." No one who believes the Bible questions the importance of religious experience, the place of genuine heart religion. But the "neo-trio" has moved religious experience to the center of its message.

1. Pentecostalism and the Centrality of Experience. Neo-Pentecostal literature is devoted almost exclusively to experience. It promotes what promises to be the exciting or satisfying experience of being baptized in the Spirit. Great use is made of personal testimony. A minister tells of how he felt a great sensation of peace "right down to the balls of my feet." In the Christian Herald of September, 1972, a Presbyterian woman testifies of what it is like to speak in tongues.

She says:

All the joys of my life were blended together in one ecstatic moment—all the fun of childhood, my first date, the moment when the man I wanted asked me to share life with him, the exultation of the finished sex longing . . . I had the sensation I was almost floating instead of walking.

2. Romanism and the Centrality of Experience. Anyone who knows anything about the classical medieval doctrine of gratia infusa knows that the mystical inward experience of infused grace is the central concern of Roman Catholic piety. The charismatic emphasis has found great acceptance in the Roman Church because, as its theologians have recognized, Pentecostalism "is in profound harmony with the classical spiritual theology of the Church." Fr. Edward O'Connor, The Pentecostal Movement in the Catholic Church, p. 183. Rome, who has traditionally been very uncomfortable with the Protestant doctrine of salvation by imputed righteousness, is very much at home where inward experience is the supreme emphasis. Roman Catholics have not only embraced the charismatic movement, but, as Presbyterian Rev. Robert Whitaker publicly declared, "Catholics have brought a depth and a breadth and a sanity which have saved this movement. — New Covenant, June, 1973, p.7

3. Neo-Evangelicalism and the Centrality of Experience. Not to be outdone by either Protestant or Catholic Pentecostals, the evangelical movement is well into the act of selling the gospel of marvelous inward experience. This is not a new thing in the evangelical movement. For years revivalism has laid great stress on a very dramatic heart experience. Evangelicals have generally had far more to say about the subjective experience of conversion than about the mighty acts of our salvation in Christ. Groups like Campus Crusade for Christ make their focus the inward experience of receiving Christ into the heart, "the exciting discovery of the Spirit-filled life” the development of "the radiant Christian personality."

Basically, there is not a great difference between the three " neo's " The fundamental religious motifs are the same. The message of each overwhelmingly centers on the inward, mystic experience of the believer. This pursuit after some dramatic, empirical, satisfying experience is the burning passion of the current religious scene.

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