A Theological Pilgrimage: Chapter 2
By Dr. J. Rodman Williams
The 700 Club
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15 | 16 | Conclusion
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A NEW ERA IN HISTORY
A new era in history is opening up before us in a fresh and powerful
way. There is a working of the Spirit of God in our day that is bringing
about a resurgence within Christendom of the vitality and dynamism of
the early church. I refer to the Pentecostal or charismatic renewal
which vividly represents the inbreaking of this new era.
The Spirit of God doubtless is active in many ways making for the
renewal of the church. We may rejoice at every evidence of the Spirit's
work in such areas as worship, evangelism, Christian nurture, social
involvement, and ecumenical activity. However, I know of nothing that
more significantly shows forth a renewal in depth than the present Pentecostal/charismatic
movement. For herein is a concentration of the activity of the Holy
Spirit that provides a personal and community dynamic which can bring
about a radical transformation of all of life.
What we behold in this present movement of the Holy Spirit is, I believe,
a recurrence of the primordial power of the New Testament church. Something
is happening today that is more than just one possible renewal among
many; it is rather a coming to expression of primitive vitality due
not to natural forces but to the operation of the Holy Spirit. It thus
has vast potential for the depth renewal of the church throughout the
Let us turn briefly to the New Testament period to note this primitive
vitality and dynamism. The Christian community as "fellowship [koinonia]
of the Holy Spirit" lived in the dimension of the Spirit's immediate
operations. God the Father through the risen and exalted Christ had
poured out His Spirit upon one person and community after another. As
a result there was such an irruption of the Spirit as to produce extraordinary
manifestations of spiritual utterance, mighty powers of witness and
healing, manifold expressions of love and unity (e.g., see Acts 2 and
thereafter). The Holy Spirit had penetrated all the levels of human
existence, through the conscious and subconscious to the depths of the
human spirit, bringing forth new powers. He had provided energy for
the proclamation of the gospel and the coming of new life to the bodies
and souls of people. The Holy Spirit had broken into the usual ordering
of family and society life, and reconstituted it a rich unity in faith
and love. It was the same Holy Spirit who multiplied His gifts within
the Christian fellowship and gave constant direction to its daily activity.
What occurred in terms of "extra-rational" phenomena was
striking demonstration of this primordial vitality and power. We do
well to note two of these phenomena, tongues and prophecy. The first
was doubtless the stranger of the two, and could be interpreted by outsiders
as irrational nonsense (even drunkenness or madness). But for those
with personal experience, utterance in tongues signified a deeply spiritual
communication of praise, intercession, or even utterance of divine mysteries.
This was, all in all, an immediate communication between man and God
through the human spirit and Holy Spirit in intimate relationship. Man
did the speaking, freely and joyously, but the Spirit gave the language.
Thus there was the conjoining of the natural and the spiritual in a
way beyond human comprehension. Prophecy likewise signified immediacy
of address not, as with tongues, from man to God but from God to man.
Here through the ordinary language of man, the "extra-rational"
again occurred, for the words spoken in prophecy were not derived from
human reflection but came by the direct inspiration of the Holy Spirit:
He provided the message. This prophetic utterance not only made for
edification of the community; it often had a penetrating effect on those
who visited the community, laying bare the secrets of their hearts and
revealing God's presence. That prophecy was a sign of God's potent presence
no one could doubt. In addition to tongues and prophecy there were other
spiritual manifestations through which the early church expressed its
life in the Spirit. Even where it was the matter of a "word of
wisdom" or "a word of knowledge," or seemingly such ordinary
appointments as "helpers" and "administrators,"
there was the same sense of its being an activity of the Holy Spirit,
and, accordingly, not merely a rational or human capacity in operation.
The primitive Christian community was wholly "charismatic,"
that is, operating by freely bestowed gifts- -whether in terms of manifestations
for the common good, the functioning of the body, or the maturation
of the community in Christ. The all-important matter was the "gift"
("charisma" or "doma"), not natural
human abilities. Anyone in the community, by virtue of the Spirit's
disposition, might be "gifted" for the word of wisdom or of
knowledge, for the performance of miracles or healings, for prophecy
or distinguishings of spirits, for tongues or interpretation of tongues,
for helping or administration (1 Cor. 12). Regardless of background
and learning anyone might be "gifted" to be an apostle, an
evangelist, a pastor, a teacher (Eph. 4). To be sure, study and training
consequent upon such a gift were important, but the primary matter was
the gift. There were also gifts of enablement for serving, exhortation,
liberality, and deeds of mercy (Rom. 12, 1 Peter 4). In all of these
the community functioned charismatically, the Risen Lord through the
Spirit exercising His direct headship and rule through the gifts He
bestowed upon men.
Further, there were no set forms or places of worship. Usually meetings
were held in homes, and everyone was free to participate. Whomever the
Spirit "anointed" could offer a song, a lesson, a testimony,
even a revelation. This was to be done in orderly manner, but order
was not the fundamental thing. Nothing was fixed or rigid, for the whole
community was living daily in the dimension of the Holy Spirit.
Much more could be said about this divine presence and compelling
power in the New Testament community. God, to be sure, was still the
transcendent Other, awesome and holy; but in Jesus Christ He had come
in man's own flesh, and now through the Holy Spirit He again and again
became the indwelling, empowering force of the Christian life. Here
was transcendence/immanence in such fashion as had not been experienced
before; and people went forth into the world God-inspired, God-filled,
God-directed. Their worship, their witness, and their work were under
the dynamic operation of the Holy Spirit.
What, we may ask, is the record of the church following the New Testament
period? One can only answer that almost immediately there was spiritual
decline. For example, the letters of the postapostolic Fathers bear
little trace of the original spiritual vitality, and the free sway of
the Spirit's rule and life is greatly diminished.1
Charisma is soon understood to be conveyed by ordination, and sacraments
become the established channels of the Spirit's activity. The church
is increasingly viewed as an institution rather than a fellowship, and
priestly and episcopal office deemed to be constitutive for the church's
existence. Pneumatic ordering of the community gives way to legal administration,
and the church comes to understand itself as controller and dispenser
of the Spirit. The Spirit is thus domesticated and canalized, and little
room is left for Him freely to anoint leaders and to multiply His own
gifts and graces.2 For
a time there are scattered references in early patristic writings to
the gifts of the Holy Spirit, but it is not long before many of the
gifts disappear. The situation is expressed thus by one fifth-century
church Father: "Without a doubt they [the miraculous gifts of the
Spirit] accompanied the effusion of the Spirit in the apostolic age,
but they have ceased long ago to find a place among us."3
Thus, despite occasional outbreaks such as Montanism4
in the second century, the picture is largely one of increasing officialism,
institutionalism, sacerdotalism- -and dimming spiritual vitality. The
church lived no longer in the full dimension of the Spirit's spontaneous
and enabling activity.
A word should be added about the doctrine of the Holy Spirit during
these early centuries. References to the Holy Spirit in the ante-Nicene
Fathers are relatively sparse (that is, in comparison with the New Testament),
and seem to belong to a world of inadequate experience and understanding.
This becomes, I believe, all the more apparent in early creedal formulations.
The Nicene Creed of 325, after a lengthy affirmation about Christ- -His
being of "the same essence as the Father...Who for us men and our
salvation came down...," says only, "And we believe in the
Holy Spirit." Nothing is added about who or what He is or does.5
Later at Constantinople (381) there is a lengthier and more significant
statement about the Holy Spirit: "And [we believe] in the Holy
Spirit, the Lord and life-giver, Who proceeds from the Father, Who is
worshipped and is glorified together with the Father and the Son, Who
spoke through the prophets...." Quite importantly, some statement
concerning who the Holy Spirit is, His procession from the Father, and
His deity are affirmed- -and this surely is progress beyond Nicea. However,
His particular operation which stands at the heart of the New Testament
witness is not at all mentioned. "...Who spoke through the prophets"
is all that is said; but such would scarcely seem to move beyond an
Old Testament understanding of the activity of the Holy Spirit.6
The Western Church did later add the "filioque" clause
(Toledo, A.D. 589)- -"the Lord and life-giver, Who proceeds from
the Father and the Son." However, there is still nothing
about the rationale of this procession: proceeded for what purpose,
to whom, how, and so on. Even as late as this, there is no further word
about the work of the Holy Spirit; just a repetition of "who spoke
by the prophets." The church, therefore, while affirming the deity
of the Holy Spirit, His place in the Trinity, hence His nature and person,
and His relation to Christ, did not give sufficient consideration to
the Spirit's operation in the life of humanity. Again, this suggests
an inadequate experience and recognition of His activity which is prevalent
in the New Testament record and in the early Christian community.
Thus there would seem to be a close connection between the diminution
of the experience of the Holy Spirit and the church's rather limited
creedal statements. The problem would surely lie with the former, for
statements of belief basically reflect the life and experience of the
community. The church lived no longer in the full dimension of the Spirit's
presence and power, His gifts and graces, His spontaneity and freedom.
The Middle Ages represent no satisfactory improvement of the situation.
There were many monastic treatises on spirituality, thus a concern for
the inward life of prayer and the growth of the soul. Yet for the most
part this relates to various practices designed to achieve a state of
contemplation by the ascent of the soul through several stages. The
Holy Spirit scarcely figures in this, except as the infusion of love;
His coming to humanity to anoint and empower is little mentioned. It
is more a matter of what people undergo than of what the Holy Spirit
does- -and so the New Testament perspective is seriously neglected.
Concern about charisms of the Spirit does emerge, but this refers not
so much to 1 Corinthians 12:8-10 as to Isaiah 11:1-3.7
Hence, the operation of the Holy Spirit known in the early Christian
community does not clearly come into focus.
We may now turn to some consideration of the Reformation. Few today
would deny the significance of the Reformation in the recovery of many
important truths- -such as the sole headship of Jesus Christ, the priority
of Scripture over tradition, and justification by faith alone.8
Also it ought to be stressed that the Reformers variously did speak
of the role of the Holy Spirit in uniting men to Christ,9
in inspiring Scriptures, in making faith possible, and in bringing about
regeneration and sanctification. Surely all of these were great gains,
but, I would urge, in the area of the Spirit's dynamic activity much
was left unsaid.
Let us note three things. First, there was insufficient recognition
of the extraordinary and unique event of the coming of the Holy Spirit.
Despite all the discussion concerning the work of the Spirit in bringing
people to Christ- -hence the area of salvation- -there was little said
about the coming of the Spirit and the new situation this creates. It
was not clearly understood by the Reformers that the Spirit not only
points to Christ but also Christ to the Spirit, and that the coming
of the Spirit is a decisive new event in the series of God's mighty
acts. They did not see that beyond the actuality of salvation is the
event of the Spirit's bestowal; indeed, they tended to view the latter
as simply the applying of the former (thus Pentecost, the subjective
side of Christ's work of redemption). Accordingly, by overlooking- -even
misunderstanding- -the event of the Spirit's coming, the Reformers failed
to grasp the important New Testament dimension of the Spirit's activity
wherein the people of faith are filled with God's reality and presence,
fresh powers of praise and proclamation are brought forth, and their
common life is led into new and dynamic expressions.10
Second- -and following upon what has just been said- -the Reformation
was not able fully to break free from the structural rigidity of the
medieval church. To be sure, much was done to crack open the monolithic
structure of the Church of Rome and thereby to relieve a repressive
condition. However, the churches of the Reformers did not succeed in
recapturing the vision of a church guided by the Holy Spirit distributing
gifts and ministries as He wills. Their continuing stress on form and
order was of course necessary, especially in light of the separation
from Rome, and thus the importance given to such "offices"11
as pastor and teacher. But the freedom in the Spirit to be led into
new patterns was not fully realized. Further, the definition of the
church as existing where the word is truly preached and the sacraments
leaves much to be desired.13
For as important as preaching and sacraments are, it is only people
living in the "koinonia" of the Holy Spirit who represent
the true ecclesia. It is in such a fellowship of the Spirit (insufficiently
recognized by the Reformers) that the charismatic ordering of the life
of the community can again become a reality.
Third, the Reformers did not adequately grapple with the gifts (charismata)
of the Holy Spirit. Calvin is a particular case in point. Many times
in his writings he speaks quite appreciatively of such gifts as tongues,
prophecy, and working of miracles, but he does not satisfactorily come
to terms with them. This may be seen in that Calvin frequently speaks
of these extraordinary workings of the Spirit not only as having ceased
with the early church but also that this cessation was quite proper.
One reason given for this is that God provided these gifts only for
the early adornment of the gospel: "Those miraculous powers and
manifest workings...have ceased; and they have rightly lasted only for
a time. For it was fitting that the new preaching of the gospel, and
the new kingdom of Christ should be illumined and magnified by unheard
of and extraordinary miracles."14
Concerning the gift of tongues (to Cornelius and household) Calvin writes:
"They were endowed with a variety of tongues to praise God in many
languages....tongues were given, not only to meet a need, when the Gospel
had to be preached to foreigners with a different language, but also
for the adornment and honour of the Gospel itself."15
Another reason given by Calvin for the cessation of these extraordinary
gifts is that people so quickly corrupted them that God simply took
them away. He writes that "the gift of the tongues, and other such
like things are ceased long ago in the Church"; and, Calvin adds
concerning the gift of tongues, that "many did translate that unto
pomp and vain glory....No marvel if God took away that shortly after
which he had given, and did not suffer the same to be corrupted with
So whether because of no need for further extraordinary gifts or due
to the corruption that soon came about, it is evident that for Calvin
"miraculous workings" have long ago rightly ceased. Thus Calvin,
like others before him, affirms the end of the miraculous gifts, but
also goes farther: he assures the church that this cessation was altogether
fitting, and implies that, since God Himself withdrew them, they are
gone without possibility of return.17
What all of this signifies regarding the Reformation is a blind spot
concerning the primordial dynamism of the Holy Spirit. To the left of
the classical Reformers were the "Enthusiasts" (or "Spiritualists")
who placed much emphasis on the area of spiritual vitality. They stressed,
for example, the church as a shared fellowship of believers, cultivation
of evangelical fervor, and simplicity of organization and worship. They
also tended to lay more weight on guidance by the Holy Spirit than direction
of the Scriptures. The Reformers reacted strongly against the Enthusiasts,
viewing them as "fanatics" who left Scripture behind,18
elevating their own guidance by the Spirit to the place of primacy.
Still, these "Left Wing" people, however exaggerated some
of their ideas and actions, were seeking a more radical New Testament
renewal. They represented an attempt to make some further headway toward
overcoming the formalism and institutionalism of the past.
There is not space here to follow in detail the way of the church
since the Reformation. One might mention, almost in passing, a number
of events relating to spiritual renewal, such as the rise of Pietism
on the continent; the incidence of Puritanism, Quakerism, and Wesleyanism
in England; the "Great Awakenings" and the emergence of Holiness
groups in America. Of these, I should like to touch upon a few that
have particular bearing on the contemporary scene.
A word, first, about Quakerism, which arose in the seventeenth century.
In its concern to move away from such things as institutional forms,
ordained clergy, structured worship, and dogmatic formulas, there would
seem to be a return to much of the New Testament pattern. Also, at the
heart of Quaker life is the emphasis on immediate religious experience
(the "Light within") without which Christianity is an empty
faith. Further, there is stress on the power of Christ or the Spirit
as that which is most needed by the church. So writes George Fox, founder
of the Quaker movement: "The Lord...said unto me that if but one
man or woman were raised by His power to stand and live in the same
Spirit that the prophets and apostles were in who gave forth the Scriptures,
that man or woman should shake all the country...."19
Often in Fox's writing there is reference to people trembling before
the word preached, and a number of instances are given of extraordinary
healing and deliverance. Also Fox, and those after him, stress the importance
in the gathered meeting for waiting on the Lord until His word can truly
be heard and spoken.
One may see in this Quaker belief and practice a recapturing of many
elements of the New Testament. However, two comments must be added about
how fully this was accomplished. First, the "Light within,"
which is sometimes called by Quakers the Holy Spirit, tends to be viewed
not so much as a light or power which becomes an actuality through the
redemption in Christ, but is understood as a resident fact of all people's
lives. Thus this "Light" only needs to be recognized and elicited
that people may come to truth and salvation.20
But the New Testament pattern is quite otherwise: there is no "Light
within" until Christ enlightens the inner darkness; and the Holy
Spirit is He who is sent to those made new in Christ. Without the vigorous
New Testament emphasis on the presence of the Holy Spirit as occurring
only through forgiveness of sins"21
and redemption in Christ, there is danger that "the power of the
Spirit" (a frequent expression of Fox) may become indistinguishable
from human assertion and activity, and the breaking down of ancient
forms and practices little more than the work of the human spirit. Further
a man or woman may "shake the country," but
is this necessarily God's own shaking? Second, despite references
made by such a commanding figure as Fox to extraordinary happenings-
-people frequently "quaking," and healings now and then occurring-
-there is no clear picture of the recovery of the primitive dimension
of the Holy Spirit within the community. The Quaker meeting, while beautifully
depicted as a time of silence, waiting, and speaking only by inward
prompting, does not fully succeed in recapturing the New Testament picture
of a community in which the Holy Spirit manifests His gifts and workings.
There is more emphasis on inward silence than outward praise, and on
simplicity and directness of speech than on charismatic utterance.22
Second, in regard to the Wesleyan movement of the eighteenth century
one may note how it goes beyond the Reformation in a concern for entire
sanctification or Christian perfection. As in Luther's teaching, there
is emphasis on sin and justification, as in Calvin's there is stress
on regeneration and sanctification, but in addition there is Wesley's
conviction of the possibility of realizing perfection in this present
life.23 By the Holy
Spirit we are daily conformed to Christ in the process of sanctification,
but there may, and also ought to, come a time when the Christian is
granted entire sanctification: a freedom from inbred sin and the perfection
of love. Wesley by no means minimizes the need for salvation of a deep,
inward kind; indeed, without this there is no sanctifying Spirit at
work within humanity. Wesley's fuller concern, however, is for the realization
of that perfection which may occur in Christian life.
It is important to note, first, that Wesley's emphasis leads to a
view of two great blessings- -salvation and entire sanctification. Both
are of faith, and though separated by years, each occurs instantaneously.24
How does this sanctification come about? Wesley writes: "Expect
it by faith; expect it as you are; expect it now...a
poor sinner that still has nothing to pay, nothing to plead but 'Christ
died.'" Again, in more activist fashion, he writes in answer to
the question, "How are we to wait for this change?" the following:
"Not in careless indifference or indolent inactivity, but in vigorous
and universal obedience; in a zealous keeping of all his commandments;
in watchfulness and painfulness; in denying ourselves and taking up
our cross daily; as well as in earnest prayer and fasting and a close
attendance on all the ordinances of God. And if a man dream of attaining
it any other way, he deceiveth his own soul."25
It is significant that Wesley does not lay stress on the Holy Spirit
in the attainment of this perfection. He occasionally mentions that
the Holy Spirit will bear inward witness when this comes about. It would
therefore seem clear that, despite Wesley's "second blessing"
teaching, there is no thought of a special coming of the Holy Spirit;
and so, as with the Reformers, this dimension of the Spirit's work is
still not recognized.
Wesley's attitude toward the New Testament charismata is likewise
revealing. In his preaching there were many occasions of people being
"deeply smitten," crying out in anguish, falling to the ground,
even going into convulsions before they came to salvation. Wesley saw
in this the convicting power of the Holy Spirit. But he never laid claim
to "extraordinary operations" of the Holy Spirit; indeed he
sought to defend his movement against them.26
At one time Wesley preached a sermon in which, referring to "extraordinary
gifts" such as healing, tongues, and interpretation, he says: "Whether
these gifts of the Holy Ghost were designed to remain in the church
throughout all ages, and whether or no they will be restored at the
nearer approach of the 'restitution of all things' are questions which
it is not needful to decide." And then shortly thereafter, he adds,
"It was, therefore, for a more excellent purpose than this, that
'they were all filled with the Holy Ghost.' It was, to give them the
mind that was in Christ...those holy fruits of the Spirit...love, joy,
least it can be said for Wesley that he goes beyond Calvin in envisioning
the possibility of some future restoration of the extraordinary gifts;
however, he does not view the matter as one of any great consequence.
Third, the stress on revivalism and holiness, especially on the American
scene in the nineteenth century, began to bring about a new emphasis
on the work of the Holy Spirit. The Holiness movement represents a continuation
of Wesleyan theology in its stress on a "second blessing"
of entire sanctification, or complete holiness. In this movement it
became common to speak of this second experience as "baptism with
the Holy Spirit," or "Spirit baptism."28
Along with the Holiness movement was the growth of a revivalism that
likewise came to speak of Spirit baptism as a second experience, but
not one so much of holiness as of "enduement of power." Revivalists
such as Finney, Moody, and Torrey came increasingly to say that the
need of the church in its evangelistic efforts was power for witness.
And this, "baptism with the Spirit" alone could provide.29
It is this combination of revivalism and holiness that immediately prepared
the way for the spiritual renewal of the twentieth century.30
Now in coming to the twentieth century we discover a fuller recovery
of the primitive dynamism of the Holy Spirit in the rise of the Pentecostal
movement. Pentecostalism (originating about 1901) represented a kind
of merging of holiness and revivalism by adding to the second blessing
of holiness a third blessing of the enduement of power. However, as
in revivalism, baptism with the Holy Spirit was identified with the
latter. Thus it was held that beyond conversion (or justification) and
holiness (or sanctification) there was a further experience of empowering,
which is baptism with the Spirit.31
This empowering, furthermore, was understood not only for missionary
activity (as with revivalism) but for the individual's and community's
life of praise, witness, and edification. It was to be "filled
with the Spirit"- -with all that the fullness of God can mean.
In this event of Spirit baptism, which many now began to experience,
there was indeed the resurgence of the New Testament reality of the
presence and power of God.
It is important to note the close connection Pentecostals recognized
between baptism with the Holy Spirit and the charismatic manifestation
of tongues, or glossolalia. We have noted how this phenomenon, along
with many other extraordinary workings of the Spirit, became almost
unknown after the first few centuries; how theologians such as Aquinas
and Calvin were at a loss to understand its significance and viewed
tongues only as an event of past history; how after the Reformation
there is no experience of this kind by men such as Fox and Wesley. It
should be added that there was some manifestation of tongues in the
late seventeenth century among the Huguenots of the Cevennes ("the
little prophets") and the Catholic Jansenists, and then in the
early nineteenth century among the Irvingites of Scotland, but none
of these occurrences was ever widespread. Nor did these movements stress
the Pentecostal connection between a special event of Spirit baptism
and glossolalia. It was in the linking of the two, and the emphasis
on tongues as "initial evidence" of baptism in the Spirit,
that Pentecostalism made its unique contribution.32
This address is not the place to evaluate the Pentecostal doctrine
of tongues as "initial evidence," but to stress rather the
point that the Pentecostals saw an integral relationship between Spirit
baptism- -or being "filled with the Spirit"- -and extra-rational
utterance. To be "Spirit-filled" signifies that man in the
entirety of his being, his conscious and his unconscious life, is now
pervaded by the Holy Spirit.33
The spirit as well as the mind is included; accordingly, the most primary
form of utterance in this event is spiritual not rational. The tongue
as the instrument of human utterance may speak in self-transcending
fashion because the Holy Spirit is now freely moving through the human
spirit. On the deepest level this utterance is extra-rational in the
sense of not being in the ordinary language of the speaker; but very
close to it is utterance in ordinary language which is also extra-rational
in that it is not a result of the speaker's own rational reflection.
The first is glossolalia, the second is prophecy- -and in their occurrence
witness is borne to the fresh opening up of the world of the Spirit.
Pentecostals by no means stopped with the extra-rational of tongues
and prophecy. They also testified to experiencing the whole gamut of
spiritual gifts such as word of knowledge, gifts of healing, working
of miracles, and discernment of spirits. It is significant that for
the first time since the early church the whole range of spiritual manifestations
was claimed, and people sought to order their personal and community
life in terms of these New Testament operations of the Holy Spirit.
To summarize: Pentecostalism represented a crucial breakthrough
in the realm of the Holy Spirit. The focus, as noted, was not the Spirit's
work in salvation, or even in sanctification, but in the much-needed
empowerment of Christian life. The Pentecostal movement came about not
through a highlevel conference of theologians, biblical experts,
or an ecumenical council, but through ordinary Christians who were raising
in a fresh way a long-neglected question- -not about incarnation and
atonement, not about sacraments, not about ministerial orders, and the
like, but about the power they saw in the New Testament witness. They
sensed that this power was missing or quite minimal in their own lives
and experience. Thus the pressing question came to be: What is the secret
of the recovery of that power? And what they essentially discovered
was the New Testament "hot line," namely, the coming of the
Spirit through Jesus Christ to those who truly believed in Him with
such force as to penetrate and pervade their existence, to set loose
hitherto unrecognized and unknown powers for praising God, for witnessing
mightily with accompanying "signs and wonders," and for bringing
about a pneumatic ordering of the whole life of the Christian community.
Now this Pentecostal reality which broke in at the turn of the twentieth
century was generally too much for the various churches and religious
groups to absorb. Even among many in the Wesleyan, revivalist, and Holiness
movements- -which had prepared the way for Pentecostalism- -there was
strong opposition. Vigorous exception was taken particularly to the
joining of Spirit baptism and glossolalia. The older churches of Protestantism
(such as Lutheran, Presbyterian, and Episcopalian) paid little attention,
largely viewing the Pentecostal movement as emotionalism, irrationalism,
sectarianism gone wild, and beyond the pale of serious consideration.
With growing opposition on many sides Pentecostals soon found themselves
being spurned, and, more and more, were forced into pursuing their own
path. Most people of Pentecostal experience were quite ready to dissociate
themselves from those who opposed this new movement, and sought in their
own assemblies a larger freedom. Thus as the years went by, the Pentecostals
became increasingly a kind of third force alongside Protestantism and
Within a half-century the Pentecostal movement (which came to be divided
into a number of denominations) had spread over a large part of the
world, and in many places today is the fastest growing of all Christian
bodies. Then about mid-century there came a new wave of Pentecostal
experience among people here and there in historic Protestant churches.
This occurred not so much among people of Wesleyan and revivalist traditions,
but, surprisingly, among more formal churches such as Episcopal, Presbyterian,
and Lutheran. What began in the 1950s rapidly picked up momentum in
the 1960s until there was scarcely a Protestant denomination not feeling
the Pentecostal impact from within. Then came an even greater surprise
(than traditional Protestants becoming Pentecostally involved) when
in the late 60s the same Pentecostal reality began to stir within the
Roman Catholic Church. No one can fairly estimate the number of neo-Pentecostals,
there are today, but it seems evident that the movement is really just
getting under way.35
Far more significant than numbers, however, is the way in which mainline
(or "classical") Pentecostals in many places are having fellowship,
praying and working together, with their Protestant and Catholic brethren
in a remarkable spirit of Christian unity.
What is quite different about the neo-Pentecostal, or charismatic,
upsurge is the fact that it is going on inside the established
churches and is helping to restore the dynamism of the early church.
Though there have been a number of struggles within these churches,
and now and then a minister or layperson has been evicted because of
his Pentecostal testimony, the traditional churches are beginning to
open up. It would be too much to say that a groundswell of receptiveness
and enthusiasm has developed, but a new climate is emerging. Many who
were convinced that the "old wineskins" could not take the
"new wine" of Pentecost (thus rejection or withdrawal being
the only possibility) are finding that the church is not past renewal.
The way has been prepared through the centuries by the church's continuing
life and witness, and, rather than the Pentecostal reality being a foreign
intrusion, many are becoming aware that what is happening today is indigenous
to the church's own reality. For here is found a rejuvenation of ancient
forms, and a fresh flowing of the Spirit to infiltrate every aspect
of the church's life.
If it is true that the Pentecostal reality is helping to bring about
a renewal within the historic churches, it is also the case that these
churches have their own contribution to make. Many have a long and meaningful
confessional history, there is the experience of centuries of faith
and worship, and numerous theological insights have been gained- -all
of this, and more, can bring depth and enrichment to the charismatic
renewal. Pentecostalism, with its one great contribution to make in
the area of the work of the Holy Spirit, needs the balance of other
traditions. Furthermore, as a twentieth-century phenomenon, also largely
American in origin, it has tended to take on a particular cultural conditioning
and expression that is by no means essential to the truth of the Pentecostal
testimony. Thus the historic churches have much to give in return for
the making of a more complete witness to the Christian faith in our
To close: Truly an extraordinary spiritual renewal is occurring across
Christendom. We are seeing the release of the primitive dynamism of
the early church in our own century. By no means is it happening without
the contribution of our fathers in the faith who helped prepare the
way. Still, there is something refreshingly new and challenging about
a movement that has no denominational or confessional limits; for everywhere
that people are caught up in the Pentecostal reality there is an air
of discovery, of excitement, of joy. Furthermore, what an amazing sense
of unity- -among Protestants of all persuasions, "classical"
Pentecostals, and Roman Catholics alike- -is found in this renewal!
Here is "spiritual ecumenism"36
of the richest possible kind- -many Christians everywhere sharing an
abundant fellowship in the Spirit.
This is a new era in history. What is happening today, to be sure,
is a resurgence of the power that broke out almost two thousand years
ago, but it is now taking place within a Christendom long established
and multiple in its forms. All over the world the way is thereby prepared,
as it could not have been at the beginning of the Christian era, for
this fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit. At the first Pentecost, 120
believers were gathered together in one place, Jerusalem; but
now Jerusalem is the world, with Christians in almost every place.
As the Holy Spirit moves in mighty power over the earth, baptizing people
from on high, we can but rejoice exceedingly! For this verily is the
renewal of God's people: to carry forward their mission to the world
with new strength and vision, and to live more fully to the praise of
His great glory.
B. Swete writes: "When the student of early Christian literature
passes from the New Testament to the postcanonical writers, he becomes
aware of a loss of both literary and spiritual power" (The Holy
Spirit in the Ancient Church, 3).
Bultmann writes that "The Spirit is no longer the power that now
and again breaks out in 'gifts'-the words and deeds and conduct of the
believers-but is a power immanent in the institutions, particularly
in the sacramental cult; it is the officebearers' equipment for office"
(Theology of the New Testament, 2:114).
of Mopsuestia (this quotation from his commentary on 1 Thess. 5:19f.,
2 Thess. 2:6 may be found in Swete, op. cit., 262).
e.g., Maurice Bennett's A Living Flame, chapter 10, "Montanism:
A Revival of Prophecy." Montanism represents the sad, and to be
repeated, story of new impulses emerging in the church too powerful
for established forms. Whatever the excesses and imbalances of such
a movement, the pity is that the "living flame," which might
have given light and warmth to the church, is simply put out.
might of course say that one council cannot do everything, and since
the urgent problem facing Nicea was Christological-growing out of the
Arian controversy-that the brief statement concerning the Holy Spirit
would not necessarilv point to any failure in the church's life or understanding.
However, I would argue that this very concern with the Christological
question, and the concentration thereon, was occasioned partly by an
insufficient pneumatology. If the church had worked out its Christology
in more dynamic, even pneumatic fashion, there could have been both
a more satisfactory understanding of the event of Jesus Christ and the
significance of the activity of the Holy Spirit.
Hendry, in his The Holy Spirit in Christian Theology, writes
regarding the Creed of Constantinople: "As a formulation of the
Christian faith, the statement is patently defective, both by the standard
of the New Testament and in comparison with the second article of the
Creed in which it is incorporated...[there is] absence of any reference
to the distinctively New Testament work of the Spirit" (italics
Aquinas (A.D. 1224-1274) does seek to deal with the charisms of 1 Corinthians
12, in his section on "gratuitous graces" (Summa Theologica,
2, 2, Questions 171-178). Consideration is given, in order, to prophecy,
rapture, tongues, word of wisdom and knowledge, miracles. However-to
note two of these "graces"-prophecy is considered primarily
as intellectual knowledge, though Godinspired ("the mind
being enlightened to know an intelligible truth," 176), and tongues
are viewed as the supernatural gift of foreign languages for the proclamation
of the gospel ("Paul and the other apostles were divinely instructed
in the languages of all nations sufficiently for the requirements of
the teaching of the faith," 176). Aquinas thus intellectualizes
these "gratuitous graces," and fails to appreciate their spiritual
dynamism. He also writes as if all of this were a matter of past history,
and suggests no relevance of these gifts for the church in his day.
Bornkamm in his book, The Heart of Reformation Faith, summarizes
the "fundamental axioms" as "by faith alone," "by
grace alone," "Christ alone," and "Scripture alone"
Calvin, for example, begins the third book of his Institutes of the
Christian Religion with a chapter on the Holy Spirit in which he
states, against the background of what Christ has done for mankind's
salvation (discussed in Book 2), that salvation is without effect unless
it becomes an internal reality. This can happen, Calvin adds, through
"the secret energy of the Holy Spirit, by which we come to enjoy
Christ and all his benefits" (3.1.1. Battles trans.).
the Reformers carry forward a failure in pneumatology which existed
from the early church on. It had been recognized (supra) that the Spirit
proceeded from the Father (and the Son-Western tradition), but the significance
of this procession was not understood. Nor is it understood by the Reformers,
despite their advances in talking about the Holy Spirit in relation
to many areas of Christian experience. Theologically, since Constantinople
the Holy Spirit has been viewed as equal with Father and Son, but in
terms of the understanding of His own "proper" work there
is a practical subordination.
Luther, for example, in his German version of the Bible, often translates
the word "diakonia" (ministry) as "Amt"
or "office." Thus there is a continuation of the idea of ecclesiastical
office which began in the postapostolic period.
Calvin in his Institutes declares: "Wherever we see the
Word of God purely preached and heard, and the sacraments administered
according to Christ's institution, there, it is not to be doubted, a
church of God exists" (4.1.9. Battles trans.).
Brunner astutely observes that "no one will suppose that one of
the apostles would recognize again in this formula the Ecclesia of which
he had living experience" (The Misunderstanding of the Church,
4.19.6 (Battles trans.).
on Acts lO:46 (Fraser and McDonald trans.).
on Acts 10:44, 46 (Beveridge trans). Since Calvin views the gift of
tongues as having ceased, he may seem inconsistent in writing in his
Commentaries on 1 Corinthians 14:5 (Beveridge trans.): "As
it is certain that the Holy Spirit has here honoured the use of tongues
with neverdying praise, we may very readily gather, what is the
kind of spirit that actuates those reformers, who level as many approaches
as they can against the pursuit of them." However, Calvin here,
as reading of the context will show, is talking about the knowledge
and value of foreign languages, and urges that we should pursue them.
Still, there is a bit of inconsistency in that Calvin views tongues
in the early church as a passing miracle-and therefore not to be sought-whereas
here it is a knowledge to be cultivated and prized. In either event,
it might be added, Calvin, like Thomas Aquinas, here misses the spiritual
dimension of speaking in tongues.
are places, however, in Calvin's writings where his attitude about the
availability of the gifts is more positive. For example, in reference
to the "rivers of living water" (John 7:38) that Jesus said
would come from those who had received the Holy Spirit, Calvin declares
that the rivers signify "the perpetuity, as well as the abundance
of gifts and graces of the Holy Spirit...promised to us." However,
Calvin thereafter adds, "How small is the capacity of our faith,
since the graces of the Holy Spirit scarcely come into us by drops...[they]
would flow like rivers, if we gave due admission to Christ; that is,
if faith made us capable of receiving Him" (these quotations are
from the Commentary on John 7:38). It is significant that Calvin
here relates the paucity of gifts and graces not to a divine termination
of them but to our little faith.
warns against the "fanatics" who see no further need of Scripture
because they claim to be taught immediately by the Spirit (note his
Institutes, 1.9, appropriately titled "Fanatics, Abandoning
Scripture and Flying over to Revelation, Cast Down All the Principles
of Godliness" in the Battles trans.).
Journal of George Fox, 149.
Fox writes: "I exhorted the people to come off from all these things
(outward temples...traditions and doctrines of men ...hireling teachers,
etc.), directing them to the Spirit and grace of God in themselves,
and to the Light of Jesus in their own hearts; that they might come
to know Christ, their free teacher, to bring them salvation, and to
open the Scriptures to them" (Journal, 140).
searches in vain in Fox's Journal for any reference on his part
to a personal conviction of sin, or of his own coming to salvation.
He writes about himself, "When I came to eleven years of age I
knew pureness and righteousness" (66), and he never admits to a
have discovered no reference to tongues in Fox's Journal. Philip Schaff,
in his History of the Christian Church, 1:237, however, speaks
of glossolalia "among the early Quakers and Methodists." If
Schaff is correct, I do not know when this appeared among the Quakers.
It might be added that Roland Knox in his book, Enthusiasm, does
not agree with this statement about either early Quakers or Methodists
(see p. 551). I am inclined to agree with Knox, especially about the
Methodists (whom I will discuss below). He may be right also about the
especially Wesley's book, A Plain Account of Christian Perfection.
Wesley's discussion of whether entire sanctification or perfection occurs
gradually or instantaneously see John Wesley, (ed. by Albert
C. Outler), pages 282 and 294. Instantaneousness is stressed in both
accounts. In a letter Wesley puts this position succinctly: "A
gradual work of grace constantly precedes the instantaneous work both
of justification and of sanctification, but this work itself is undoubtedly
instantaneous. As after a gradual conviction of sin you are justified
in a moment, so after a gradually increasing conviction of inbred sin
you will be sanctified in a moment" (Letter of June 21, 1784. I
am indebted to F. D. Bruner's A Theology of the Holy Spirit,
38, for this quotation.)
from John Wesley, pages 282 and 294.
separate letters Wesley wrote, "I deny that either I, or any in
connection with me...do now, or ever did, lay claim to...extraordinary
operations of the Spirit" (Nov. 4, 1758), and "I utterly disclaim
the extraordinary gifts of the Holy Spirit" (Nov. 17, 1759). See
The Letters of the Rev. John Wesley, John Telford, ed..
preached, August 24, 1744, on Acts 4:31 (Sermons on Several Occasions,
1:41). It is interesting to note that in another letter Wesley also
said: "While we do not depend on supernatural activities of the
Holy Spirit we do not believe miraculous activities of the Spirit have
ceased....I am not aware that God hath anywhere precluded himself from
thus exerting His sovereign power, from working miracles, in any kind
or degree, in any age, to the end of the world. I do not recollect any
Scripture wherein we are taught that miracles were to be confined within
the limits either of the apostolic or the Cyprianic age, or any period
Methodist in its origins, the Holiness movement rapidly became interdenominational.
Also, there were a number of evangelicals variously related to the Holiness
movement who were advocates of a "higher life." Among the
Holiness and evangelical leaders were such men as W. E. Boardman, John
S. Inskip, Robert Pearsall Smith, F. B. Meyer, J. Wilbur Chapman, A.
J. Gordon, Andrew Murray, and A. B. Simpson. A. J. Gordon in a chapter
entitled "The Enduement of the Spirit" writes: "For it
is as sinners that we accept Christ for our justification, but it is
as sons we accept the Spirit for our sanctification....It is an additional
and separate blessing..."(The Ministry of the Spirit ,
for example, Charles Finney's Memoirs where he describes his
own "baptism with the Spirit" (17-18) and the need for this
on the part of clergy in general (55). Also, see his Power from on
High, chapter 4, "Enduement of Power from on High." R.
A. Torrey's The Baptism with the Holy Spirit (1897) and his Person
and Work of the Holy Spirit (1910) clearly set forth a second experience,
beyond regeneration, of enduement of power. For example, "In regeneration,
there is the impartation of life by the Spirit's power, and the one
who receives it is saved: in the baptism with the Holy Spirit, there
is the impartation of power, and the one who receives it is fitted for
service" (Person and Work of the Holy Spirit, 176).
there are charismatic aspects in both revivalism and holiness (some
reference to tongues, for example, especially in the Holiness movement),
neither emphasis represents the concern for charismatic life of the
community that was to develop in the twentieth century.
Charles Parham, first leader of the Pentecostal movement (who had been,
in turn, Congregationalist, Methodist, and Holiness) said a few days
before his own Pentecostal experience: "Though I honor the Holy
Ghost in anointing power both in conversion and in sanctification, yet
I believe there is a greater revelation of his power" (The Promise
Fulfilled, Kendrick, 50). It was the inbreaking of this power on
January 1, 1901, that was the beginning of the modern Pentecostal movement.
to Donald Gee, Pentecostal leader, "It was the linking together
of speaking with tongues and the baptism in the Holy Spirit that sparked
off the Pentecostal revival" (Pentecost, no. 45, Sept.,
1958). See Bruner, op. cit., 48 n. 34.
Barth writes: "Where men may receive and possess the Holy Spirit,
it is of course a human experience and a human act.... The whole man,
right into the inmost regions of the so-called 'unconscious' is taken
in claim" (Dogmatics in Outline, 139). Likewise Emil Brunner:
"...the Holy Ghost seizes the heart, not merely the nous [mind]:
it pierces the depths of the unconscious and even the very constituents
of the personality" (The Misunderstanding of the Church,
48). I quote these words from Barth and Brunner not because they refer
directly to such matters as tongues and prophecy but because what they
say about the Holy Spirit claiming and piercing the unconscious makes
"extra-rational" utterance plausible. Brunner adds that "we
ought to face the New Testament with sufficient candour to admit that
in this 'pneuma' which the Ecclesia was conscious of possessing, there
lie forces of an extra-rational kind which are mostly lacking among
us Christians today" (ibid, 48). We may be grateful that this lack
is being remedied in the present charismatic renewal.
these terms reference is made to persons of Pentecostal experience in
the historic churches.
B. Barrett, editor of World Christian Encyclopedia, has estimated
that in 1970 there were 3,788,700 charismatics, and that this figure
grew in 1988 to 123,342,710. Barrett then projected that the number
would rise to 140,572,050 in 1990 and 222,076,500 in A.D. 2000. This
indeed is a huge growth! (For these figures see Barrett's article,
"Statistics, Global," Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic
Vinson Synan writes: "Beginning in 1901 with
only a handful of students in a Bible School in Topeka, Kansas, the
number of Pentecostals increased steadily throughout the world until
by 1993 they had become the largest family of Protestants in the world.
With over 200,000,000 members designated as 'Denominational Pentecostals,'
this group surpassed the Orthodox churches as the second largest denominational
family of Christians, surpassed only by the Roman Catholics" ("The
Origins of Pentecostalism in the USA", page 1).
expression used in the Vatican II "Decree on Ecumenism."
Chapters: 1 |
2 | 3 |
4 | 5 |
6 | 7 |
8 | 9 |
10 | 11 | 12
| 13 |
14 | 15 |
16 | Conclusion
Content Copyright 2003 by J. Rodman Williams,
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