The Pentecost Essay 1 – Yes, Virginia, there is such a thing as…

I have been writing such an essay every year since 2005, and this year is no different. I offer this as a commentary on recent events that happened to a friend of mine, and on a conversation I had with Fr. Joseph Frary, a semi-retired Anglican clergyman. The first part of the essay will concern the latter, and then we will move to the former tomorrow.

Incidentally, an interesting piece from the Church and Postmodern Culture blog is commended to those out there who have read Hardt and Negri’s Multitude.

The Spirit moves in surprising ways. In the April issue of Frist Things, a journal I would otherwise not read, James K.A. Smith, author of the books Introducing Radical Orthodoxy (2004) and Who’s Afraid of Post-Modernism (2006), wrote an article called “Talking in Tongues.” The article concerned an interesting development in Pentecostal Christianity, where, nearly a hundred years after the movement started, signs are emerging of a fully articulated Pentecostal theology. Smith suggests that Pentecostals would like to make sense, or talk about (logos), of the affective experience of the Spirit; Fr. Joseph Frary, whose interest in the troubles in the Anglican Communion is matched by his optimism about the “convergence movement,” suggests that Pentecostals have come to the point of a fides quarens intellectum.

One notable example, cited thrice in the essay, was of Simon Chan. He has written two significant texts, one on Spiritual Theology and Liturgical Theology. What I found notable was that these two books, especially the latter, have brought him to the attention of the so-called “convergence movement” previously noted. It is an attempt by Christians, mainly in the evangelical tradition, to achieve a coming-together of different strands of Christianity in order to address not only the thorny question of Christian unity but also the problems with evangelical Christianity in itself. One famous work from the movement says it all: Evangelical is Not Enough. This digression is where the question I put to him is important: is all this theologizing on the part of Pentecostals having traction here where we are?

His answer is that, precisely in the communities that emerged from the movement, we have this kind of “doing theology” going on. One example would be those churches that have the word “charismatic” and “episcopal” in the same name—and one of these used to broadcast their Sunday liturgy, at least highlights of it, on the government TV station on Sundays. I would dispute that point. For one, the churches in question are not as influential as one would want within the wider community. For another, the sad part is that the interaction between Pentecostalism and evangelicalism, which Smith feels is a separate topic altogether, has seemed to result in a significant departure in Pentecostal thought from its origins. I can only point to one example: the theology of the church.

Fr. Frary has, for me, helpfully characterized the place of Scripture in different strands of Christian thought, and their relationship to ecclesiology. On one hand, there is a tradition of Christianity that places Scripture above the Church and in fact, I should add, in its most modern manifestation, rejects the idea of the Church altogether in favor of a rugged individualism. On the other hand, there is that strand of thinking, which Roman Catholics, Eastern Christians, and Anglicans in the catholic tradition hold, arguing that Scripture is within the Church, and outside it, the Bible cannot be read properly. A similar typology, albeit a haphazard one, can be suggested for the Spirit. While, as Christ himself said, the Spirit works where it wills, there is nothing that can stop the Spirit from working within the Church (except, as some wags argue, by the Church itself).

During a conference on ecumenism held more than a year ago, it was pointed out that Pentecostals had, early on, a concern for Christian unity. I now realize that, following my discussions with Fr. Frary in Baguio last Thursday, and my reading of Smith’s article, this meant that the Church was an important concern for Pentecostal Christianity, and is slowly being retrieved. The Spirit, I can conclude, can work through the Church, through us as members of it, and it can work through human institutions, no matter how imperfect.

This brings me to the next part, which I will talk about tomorrow. I am going to comment on why institutions are important and how the Spirit can work through them. Case in point: imagine a family who hosted a house church, suddenly being unchurched.


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