The Pursuit of Holiness: A Roman Catholic-Pentecostal Dialogue

By Colle, Ralph Del | Journal of Ecumenical Studies, Summer-Fall 2000 | Go to article overview

The Pursuit of Holiness: A Roman Catholic-Pentecostal Dialogue


Colle, Ralph Del, Journal of Ecumenical Studies


PRECIS

The Introduction of Pentecostalism into the ecumenical world offers the possibility of fruitful dialogue between Pentecostals and those of other ecclesial and theological traditions. This essay explores a Roman Catholic-Pentecostal conversation on the understanding of sanctification. Both traditions share the desire for holiness--Pentecostalism by virtue of its very origins, and Catholicism in its traditions of spirituality. With the pneumatological focus of Pentecostal belief and practice the essay examines how such an emphasis illuminates the doctrine of sanctification. it first explores classical statements of the doctrine in each tradition, then a contemporary theological explication of each. Utilizing the work of Donald Gelpi, S.J., and Steven Land for the Catholic and Pentecostal traditions, respectively, it is suggested that their postcritical approaches facilitate further dialogue between the two communions on the common call to holiness.

The ecumenical world has become increasingly cognizant of the presence of movements in the life of the church that have yet to enter fully into efforts at church unity. Pentecostalism, along with its Holiness predecessors with only slight exception, would be counted among them. Yet, Pentecostal and Charismatic churches and congregations, by virtue of their strength and rapidity of growth, can no longer be ignored. (1) Much theological engagement remains ahead for the possibility of ecumenical fruit to be borne. Along with theological self-interpretations by Pentecostals themselves and the examination of roots and origins within the wider church, it will be dialogue itself that will be the real measure of the importance of their inclusion in ecumenism. Here I attempt one such dialogue between Catholics and Pentecostals.

When it comes to theological interpretation of the origins of Pentecostalism, we discover that much is at stake. At the end of his essay, "The Limits of Evangelicalism: The Pentecostal Tradition," Donald Dayton argued for a shift in paradigms in order to understand the relationship between Pentecostalism and Evangelicalism. By suggesting a "pentecostal" rather than a "presbyterian" paradigm, (2) he arrived at an alternative schema for interpreting the broader Protestant evangelical tradition, one that tends in the direction of a "subjectivizing hermeneutic." (3) Indeed, this paradigm is indigenous to the movement itself, one that is often employed for Pentecostal understandings of the history of the church, especially those that posit a restorationist motif. This pattern is not unique to Pentecostalism; it has also been utilized by pietistic and holiness groups. Particular doctrines or experiences, which illuminate significant works of grace in the Christian life, become the marks of restoration. In the case of Pentecostalism the schema of restoration typically proceeds from the Reformation and justification to Wesley and sanctification to Azuza Street and Pentecostal power.

I mention this because the more formal doctrinal understandings attending these experiential realities are in dispute, especially regarding the nature of sanctification and its relationship to the work of the Holy Spirit. It also precipitated the first major division in the movement between the Wesleyan/Holiness and Finished Work wings. Nevertheless, as Dayton and others have demonstrated, Pentecostalism is of a piece with the broader currents of revivalist, holiness, and healing movements within North American Protestantism. A "pentecostal paradigm," which highlights the pneumatological emphases, is extremely helpful not only in analyzing the roots of the movement but also in suggesting a theological analytic that can facilitate dialogue between Pentecostals and other Christian traditions. In this attempt at Pentecostal-Roman Catholic dialogue, I propose to utilize such an emphasis in order to concentrate specifically on the doctrine of sanctification. …

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