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.
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
is distinguished by its overwhelming emphasis on experience – often
called the baptism in the Holy Spirit. This baptism is usually, if not
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
Before 1960 Pentecostalism was a
movement outside the mainstream of the Protestant church. It was very sectarian,
and most churches looked
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
Demonstrating a new openness toward all branches of the church, the
charismatic movement has the ability to break down nearly all denominational
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
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
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
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
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
Speaking at the Presbyterian Charismatic
Conference in March of 1973, the cardinal also said: Our unity has to be
the Holy Spirit
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
together. . .
. Let us come back home: home means the Upper Room, Pentecost.
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.
b. 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
c. Third, Rome
has become far more open toward evangelicals. The Catholic Digest, July,
1972, presented a
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
is neo-Romanism – marked by a new openness to the Bible, to Pentecostals
and to evangelicals.
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
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
Like many evangelicals, Dr.
Pinnock expresses concern about the excesses of Pentecostalism, but
one gets the feeling that if these periphery
be trimmed away, all would be well between evangelicals and Pentecostals.
We might therefore ask, Is the only difference between evangelicals
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
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
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
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.
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
to share life with him, the exultation of the finished sex longing . .
. I had the sensation I was almost
floating instead of walking.
Romanism and the Centrality of Experience. Anyone who knows anything about the
classical medieval doctrine of gratia
infusa knows that the mystical
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
Neo-Evangelicalism and the Centrality of
Experience. Not to be outdone
by either Protestant or Catholic
Pentecostals, the evangelical movement
into the act of selling the gospel of marvelous inward experience. This
is not a new thing in the evangelical movement. For years revivalism
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
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."
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.
Read Part II