I’ve asked myself this question numerous times over the course of the past few years. As a number of my previous posts have alluded to, such as Current Trends in Pentecostalism, I have my concerns, both biblical and theological, with certain trends and aspects of thought and practice within the very diverse spectrum of Pentecostalism. For instance, excess and extreme has many times plagued the clarity and purity of our New Testament message, resulting in pronouncements of serious theological aberrations, and even heretical tendencies, from the larger Christian community. The cause: Our heart has sometimes overridden our mind. Consequently, inaccurate biblical interpretation, coupled with subsequent misapplication, reaching far beyond the necessary and normative expressions found in scripture, have turned out to be that which defines us. Rather than restoring a serious dynamic and much needed relational aspect to the Christian faith on a global scale, we have often placed ourselves on par with religious fanaticism. This has been both unnecessary and unfortunate.
However, despite these serious misgivings about the movement, I still manage to ‘stick around.’ Why? Good question.
Here are four reasons I’ve come up with so far, which will no doubt change over time.
1. We have a history together. I started attending a Pentecostal church when I was 19 years old, which means I’ve invested almost 20 years in the tradition. From the get-go the church in my local community at the time were incredibly supportive, loving and inspirational. Some of my best memories of church are those from the early years when I attended the Pentecostal church in my hometown. Furthermore, not only am I ordained with the Western Ontario District of The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada (PAOC), speak annually in their churches and contribute to their publications, but I am also a member of a PAOC church (Evangel Church). And, while I still have issues with certain things and get a little upset when I hear about and/or witness abuses, I still feel like this is home. Like a family, we don’t leave simply because we may not always get along. Instead, we take the time to sit and talk things through because of our shared commitment to stay together and the love we have for one another. The same is true for me and my love/hate relationship with Pentecostalism.
2. Someone once told me in a conversation I had about the Pentecostal Church that, while there may be issues that need to be addressed, leaving for another denomination would only trade one set of issues for other ones. While I may find an escape from these concerns, I most assuredly will adopt a whole other list to bicker about. This may seem like a weak argument in favor of staying, but it makes logical sense. And besides, the grass is not always greener on the other side.
Short story — I once attended a church where I was astonished how ‘dead’ the service seemed to be. I know it is unfair to characterize a church on the basis of one service, but I recall feeling like the place was dead. I remember coming to the conclusion that I would rather enthusiasm, even a little extremism (did I just say that?), than be a part of something that is lifeless and irrelevant.
3. I remain convinced that the Pentecostal emphasis on the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit in the Church and world (primarily in his witness to Christ) is one that I identify with and wholly embrace. No where in the New Testament do we see any indication that such activity ceased with the death of the last apostle, as many people believe (cessationism). As a result, the Pentecostal emphasis on the Holy Spirit is one that closely reflects the biblical portrait of God working in the world to bring about cosmic redemption through His Son, Jesus Christ. Maybe I’m in the right place after all.
4. Pentecostal scholarship is growing at an exponential rate around the world. More and more Pentecostals are enrolling in a variety of graduate programs, including PhD’s, and are contributing to the ongoing work of biblical/theological scholarship, and in some cases breaking new theological ground. While anti-intellectualism continues to raise its ugly head from time to time, due in large part to the residual influence of fundamentalism, the surge of Pentecostal scholars around the world and their collective contributions provides an enormous amount of hope for the future. (A growing number of members in groups such as the Society for Pentecostal Studies (SPS), and the Canadian Pentecostal Research Network are two examples that come to mind). New ventures such as the Pentecostal Post also testify to the ongoing development in this field.
These four ideas summarize the main reasons why I’ve decided to remain within Pentecostalism. And, while I no doubt will continue to struggle from time to time with a number of theological issues, such as those I’ve highlighted in the Current Trends article, I continue to feel like I should stick around, at least for the foreseeable future. I also hold out hope for the young movement and pray we make the changes necessary to retain any degree of effectiveness and longevity. Though seeking to make changes from within will no doubt bring with it varying degrees of frustration, staying on the inside may prove to be the best method of seeing these changes through to completion.
While change will inevitably be perceived as a threat to what many believe to be inherent to and define Pentecostal thought and practice, the exact opposite will transpire if we allow ourselves room to undergo the growing pains of ecclesiastical and theological development. A more accurate understanding and implementation of truth, even as it is gleaned from criticism, will strengthen our cause and propel us into the future, not only with a heart-felt, passionate thrust, but also with a strong, biblically informed, coherent theological framework that will demand serious attention. Regarded as ‘thinkers’, we will become serious players on the evangelical playing field. A determined, thoughtful response will appeal to the ‘heart’ and ‘mind’ of humanity, making Pentecostal Christianity a faith worth seeking.