At Pentecost, at Antioch, and in the modern era, at Azusa Street, we witnessed God’s desire to give birth to a new race of men not seen in history and only possible in Christ – the ‘chosen’ (eklektos) race – select, favored, and choice. Is such a thing possible? Have we missed a critical clue from 1 Peter 2:9. One new race of people in the earth – chosen, royal, priestly, a nation – as was Israel – but now, a nation scattered among the nations, to unite, to reconcile, to make peace.
The church that modern Pentecost birthed out of Azusa Street was unique from the Reformation churches. It was not German Lutheran, or Swiss Calvinistic, or Scottish Presbyterian, or English Anglican. It was not Christianity bound to a language, a culture, or a political system – it was differentiated, transcending race and nationality.
The New Testament church likewise was not Jewish or Roman, Greek or Samaritan. True Pentecost was never intended to create a black or white, Hispanic or Asian church – we are a new race of men in Christ – a ‘chosen’ race. It is the desire of God before a broken watching world, to forge from our differences one new man (Eph. 2:14-16), one new nation of royal priests to the nations. To make us one, that the world might believe (John 17).
At Azusa Street, God crossed the lines of offense, rejection and exclusion, and stood with Seymour, and he washed the color line away, creating an army, a chosen race of simple, sincere priestly men and women. Like the Galileans that Jesus chose, these early Pentecostals, formally untrained, rocked their world. In just over a century, the movement has grown to be 700 million strong.
Sadly, we too quickly redrew the lines. We created church movements with congregations that were more identified with socio-linguistic cultural markers than our transcending identity with Christ. We came to reflect the world in which we belong, more than the heaven to which we aspire and were to represent. Now, God is calling us back to the future – to uncover a DNA of identity in Christ that has been lost. It is not only a key to our future, but to the healing of nations as well. This is a task beyond us, a relational construct that is humanly impossible – it demands a work of the Spirit
The Present Hour Demands a Pentecostal Church. This is our hour. The division and the darkness is growing around us. The Evil One always overplays his hand. He now acts as if the nation was in his grasp. Only a chosen, unified, humble, praying people, deeply dependent on the power of the Holy Spirit can turn this nation!
We Must Be Profoundly Pentecostal. This could be the hour for which we have been destined, if, going back to the future, we return to our humble, prayerful, missional roots. We survived the years of being called a cult, of being excluded from ministerial associations, of being denied building permits, of being misunderstood and mischaracterized. We tasted in our early history, the apostolic bitterness of cultural-social disapproval. We were not favored by the state, the counties, or cities. That threw us into the hands of deep dependence on God. We were forced to be empowered by the Spirit – there was no other choice. And we were
Most recently, we have relished the decades of evangelical affirmation, of respectability, and of the measured acceptance of glossolalia, and not only admission to circles from which we were once barred, but leadership roles. Some Pentecostals have attempted to erase or minimize the differences between them and our evangelical friends. Some have given up on the Pentecostal distinctive to win favor and broader acceptance in the West, dominated by liturgical, mainline and evangelical churches. While the broader fellowship is to be celebrated, and the common synergy is to be nobly exploited, we must not accept the standard of being merely Evangelicals with tongues, Christians with a Pentecostal flavoring. Especially not in this current post-Christian era. Rather, we must rise to the challenge of being deeply and profoundly, yet humbly, Pentecostal, formed and empowered by the Spirit. This means the embrace of all the pneumatic gifts. It also means the simultaneous and equally important cultivation of supernatural character, the fruit of the Spirit. It means the embrace of the apostolic and prophetic, along with the ministry gifts of pastors and teachers, with a fresh new wave of lay evangelism. It means becoming a missional movement.
We Must Be Perceptibly Pentecostal. Early Pentecostals, with little formal education, preached from burning hearts. In many cases, they had little understanding about sermon preparation. They simply shared from what they had learned on their knees, praying over ragged, marked-up, open bibles that they had stained with tears. Rising from calloused knees, they humbly declared that what God done for them, he could do for others – and cities changed.
The strength of Pentecostals has been beyond the intellectual. It has been rooted in a ‘lived liturgy’ – lives so evidently impacted by a God-encounter that the effect on family and friends, sometimes on a whole town or city, was stunning. It is not that Pentecostals, were or are anti-intellectual. Rather, historically, Pentecostals are decidedly anti-intellectualistic. We have insisted on a commonsense faith, believing that the Holy Spirit enlightens; that in sincerely reading the Bible, common men and women can gain enough understanding adequate for a holy, Spirit-led life. We have steadfastly refused to allow the Bible to be the property of the intellectually elite. As Douglas Jackson quaintly says, Pentecostals have learned to “think in the Spirit.”
We Must Be Pervasively Pentecostal. A Pentecostal encounter with the Spirit changes everything – the relationship with and perception of both God and the Evil One, the view of sin and sanctification, discernment of friends and enemies, appraisal of obstacles within – the flesh; and those without – the world. All is seen differently. Pentecostalism offers a different way to see and do ministry. It is more than justification, more than regeneration – it is dependence on the power and person of the Holy Spirit. It is not merely an evangelical worldview with a dash of the Holy Spirit. It is more.
We Must Be Empowered Pentecostals. As Pentecostals, we affirm Luther’s understanding of salvation as justification by faith – a legal transaction that frees us from the guilt of sin. Classically, we also affirm Wesley’s view – salvation as regeneration, a quickening of the Spirit, in which dead men taste life, and are liberated from the grip of sin. This is the felt; the experiential. In Pentecost, salvation is also seen as liberation not only from both sin’s guilt and grip, but also from Satan’s power. Indeed, the greatest act of spiritual warfare is, as Walter Brueggemann says, “switching sides,” being transferred from the body of Adam into Christ. In Luther, we meet truth; in Wesley, we sense the warmth of God’s love; but in Pentecostal conversion, men and women taste power. They are set free – liberated, not only from, but to; freed to sing and share Christ, to witness boldly and tell the story, to worship passionately, to pray fervently. This is an empowering liberation to become, to be and to do, out of relationship.
Much of the church characterizes the gospel as love – as experiencing God’s love. But there is more. The gospel also has a compelling rational dynamic as well. It is a set of propositional truths. It is not merely faith in response to God’s love, it requires the embrace of ‘the’ faith – a set of fundamental, Biblical truths that define the worldview of Christians. Pentecostals believe there is more. They believe that the cross, and therefore the gospel, is at the intersection of love and truth, and there, just beyond Calvary, we also meet the power of God – resurrection power. This is the flame of love that cannot be extinguished, and truth that cannot be silenced, and the power that cannot be obstructed. It still raises the dead. It still heals sick bodies. It introduces the miraculous dynamic. It is love on steroids, and the sword of truth wielded by the Spirit – that melts the hardest of hearts. The gospel, for the Pentecostal, is love, truth, and power.
We must go back to the future.
This article is the essence of a multi-tribe address delivered at the PCCNA 25th Anniversary in Memphis in 2019. It is intended for the audience of Pentecostal tribal leaders. Hopefully, it will be informative to all who read it.
<Check back next week for more excerpts from this article.>
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