Pentecost 2009 Reflections

May 31, 2009

emergent / emerging church / pentecostal / charismatic

Today is Pentecost Sunday (yesterday, now that it is after midnight). I feel a little weird writing about it, being something of an ecclesial vagabond in the last couple of years. But in spite of, and maybe because of that, I really think it is important to continue this kind of conversation in the emerging church.

Last year, Jesus Manifesto had a writing competition that examined Pentecost in some wonderful ways. From a specifically Pentecostal perspective, John O’Hara and others on Facebook have been discussing what the two movements have to say to each other, and I try to bring this up often here, as well.

The Jesus Manifesto was a really interesting one for me, as I see the Pentecostal movement at its beginning as the close descendant of the Anabaptist movement. Both movements, I think, need to be challenged moving into the future as they have each adapted in good and bad ways, and failed to adapt in good and bad ways. My hope is that the broader emerging church, and Emergent in particular, can shape and be shaped in light of Pentecost, and in the newer Pentecosts that happened at Azusa Street and other places.

My Pentecost

My first encounter with the Spirit of God happened in a fairly intense situation, and is the reason that I decided to seek after Jesus, or seek to understand and love the Scriptures, or seek to share who God is and what he is doing in the world. When this Spirit came upon me, I immediately knew that it was the most powerful thing I had ever experienced, and wanted to experience more.

As I continued to seek to grow in the knowledge of God, I became acquainted with the practice of glossolalia, which is still a part of my prayer life and experience with the Spirit. I’m not, in this post, interested in looking at the characteristic Pentecostal doctrine of initial evidence, and I don’t at all want to discount the pain and hurt that abuse of this experience has caused to many people. I am truly sorry for this; while it has not affected me personally, it has affected people close to me.

In addition to this, there have been many times of extended periods sitting on the floor in the presence of God, praying with and praying for others, and great times of worship that I wouldn’t trade for anything. They are wonderful, mystical experiences where I have and continue to learn great things about the nature of God.

What Pentecost offers

It is often very easy for those in the Pentecostal movement to pretend that church history didn’t start until 1906, ignoring powerful movements from the Desert Fathers and Mothers, to the medieval mystics, to the Anabaptists and early Methodists. It is also very easy for many of us who have felt the excesses of the modern movement to pretend that we cannot share in these experiences.

While again, I am cognizant of the excesses to which the Pentecostal and charismatic movements have often been susceptible, and I do not want to look at specific doctrines at the moment, I want to submit that these kind of experiences are powerful and subversive experiences from which we in postmodern culture and the emerging church have much to learn.

Pentecost offers to all of us those tangible, powerful experiences with the Spirit of God, asking us to authentically empower our mission of seeking to join in what God is doing in the world. It asks us to be willing to subvert our minds, our voices, our time, our expectations, and our rationality.