Magazine article The Christian Century

Discerning the Spirit

Magazine article The Christian Century

Discerning the Spirit

Article excerpt

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8, NRSV).

PENTECOSTALS' SPIRITUALITY and practice revolve around their understanding of the infilling of the Holy Spirit, which empowers Christian witness. For most Pentecostals, the experience of this empowerment is logically (if not chronologically) subsequent to the experience of salvation, and opens the believer to the wide range of charismatic gifts of the Spirit as enumerated at various places in the New Testament (especially 1 Corinthians 12:7-11, 27-31; Romans 12:3-8; Ephesians 4:11-13; and 1 Peter 4:10-11).

Particularly important for Pentecostal spirituality are the gifts of prophecy, tongues and the interpretation of tongues. While both prophecy and tongues are inspired by the Holy Spirit, the gift of tongues calls attention to the realm of the Spirit's working that is not irrational, but that cannot be adequately comprehended by conventional languages, categories of thought and rational explanations. However, since focus on these gifts could also lead to a false sense of elitism or to the neglect of other aspects of the faith, many Pentecostals are careful to insist both on the importance of the fruits of the Spirit (as recorded in Galatians 5:22-24) and on seeking after the Giver of the gifts, the Holy Spirit, rather than after the gifts themselves.

Perhaps surprisingly, the emergence of Pentecostal theology, in the sense of formal scholarly work, has coincided and overlapped with the renaissance of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit in the academy. Many Pentecostal thinkers have been deeply engaged in conversations with those mainline Protestant and Roman Catholic theologians who have been involved in research on the Holy Spirit. The Pentecostal contribution has been to emphasize not only the person of the Spirit, but the Spirit's gifts or charisms and their function for Christian spirituality and for the practices of the church. This may explain, at least in part, why Pentecostal theologians have been less interested in historic doctrines like the filioque ("and from the Son") clause in the creed (which are related to the person and procession of the Holy Spirit) and more interested in doctrines like Spirit baptism (which are related to the works of the Spirit).

Ecumenically, Pentecostals have slowly become involved over the course of the last generation in bilateral dialogues--for example, with the Roman Catholic Church and with the World Alliance of Reformed Churches--and have participated in various discussions organized by the National Council of Churches and the World Council of Churches. To be sure, those involved usually have represented only themselves, since Pentecostal denominational leaders generally have not endorsed formal participation in ecumenical dialogue, given the movement's historic alliances with fundamentalism and conservative evangelicalism rather than mainline Protestantism. Further, most laypeople in Pentecostal churches are committed to evangelistic and missionary activities, and many are not even aware of the ecumenical movement, much less of developments in the ecumenical world. Yet because of the recognition that those who are filled with the Holy Spirit are empowered to testify about their experience of the Spirit, official Pentecostal leaders often view the involvement of Pentecostal scholars and theologians in the ecumenical arena as a legitimate form of witness.

How exactly do the gifts of the Spirit function in the church? Citing Acts 1:18, Pentecostals believe that the primary purpose of the baptism of the Holy Spirit is to empower believers to bear witness to the gospel to the entire world. The 20th century has been called the "century of Pentecostal mission" because of the explosive growth of Pentecostal and charismatic churches in the Eastern and Southern hemispheres. …

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