When I was a teenager, I sometimes traveled with my father as he and a team of leaders organized, led, and taught three-day discipleship training camps for students every summer at several cities and towns in the state of Tamil Nadu, India. These camps were usually held at the local churches of our Pentecostal denomination (Assemblies of God).
In the summer of 1998, I was with my father and his pastor friend as they were conducting this discipleship camp for high school and college students at a large city church. The pastor and his family had so graciously opened up their home for the three of us to stay during that time. I vividly remember seeing a “Bible sticker” posted on the guest bedroom door of the pastor’s house with these words: “Acts 2 – Do it again, Lord!”
I think this simple prayer captures the heart cry of thousands and millions of Pentecostals in India and around the world. For these passionate believers, the story of Acts 2 is their story. They just pray and long for that story to be relived – again and again and again! Many of the church programs are custom designed to enable the reliving of this story of God’s Pentecost – be it a special discipleship summer camp for students or a special anointing or tarrying service in the evening or a day fasting prayer or an all-night prayer or a special revival meeting.
I now look back to reflect on my teenage years within the South Indian Pentecostal context. Apart from my godly parents, the pastors and leaders of our churches were intentional in providing ample opportunities for all believers not only to be taught in the word of God, but also be filled with the power of the Holy Spirit. They did their very best in ensuring that the Holy Spirit was the undisputed chief guest in all those meetings and that the Spirit of God had full freedom and reign to make the Full Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ a reality for everyone who attended.
But what does this brief phenomenological treatment of Indian Pentecostalism have to say about the nature of Pentecostalism itself?
Pentecostalism is Nothing but …
Here I wanted to turn my attention to Joel’s brilliant and innovative post on the no-thingness of Pentecostalism that emphasizes the nature of God’s Spirit that runs so counter-intuitive to the human nature to control and reduce every aspect of reality to some “thing.” I agree with my friend here as he states:
The “thing-ness” of Pentecostalism is no-thing; Pentecostalism flows with the ever-moving Spirit, which pervades indexing: Healing is no-thing medical; tongues is no-thing grammatical; interpretation is no-thing systematic; miracles are no-thing scientific; faith is no-thing “rational”; prophecy is no-thing explainable; wisdom is no-thing learned; discernment is no-thing visible; and knowledge is no-thing academic. In short, Spirit-gifts are no-thing controllable. And this is the power of Pentecostal nothingness.
Then he goes on to say: “The Spirit moves in each unique space in the exact way the Spirit wills. To say otherwise reduces the Spirit to a controllable ‘thing,’ which restricts the Spirit to our own understanding. Restriction is, in fact, the exact ‘thing’ the Spirit is not (2 Corinthians 3:17-18).”
While Joel’s post highlighted the nature of Pentecostalism in resisting the human urge to control and reduce, thereby in a way telling us what Pentecostalism IS NOT, I want to present something complementary here in emphasizing what Pentecostalism IS.
Also, does saying “Pentecostalism is nothing” imply that Pentecostalism is completely without any theological anchor or grounding? I would like to argue that the NO-THINGNESS of Pentecostalism invites us to participate fully in the ONE concrete reality and nature of our Triune God! Because no-thing else can satisfy our human heart that is utterly restless until it rests on God as St. Augustine reminded us.
As Pentecostals, we fully understand that. At the same time, we emphasize that the uncontrollable and irreducible Spirit of God is the agency through which we participate in the eternally unchanging, yet utterly incomprehensible, glorious nature of God, our Heavenly Father, who was revealed by the Son of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, full of grace and truth!
So, while “Pentecostalism is no-thing,” it should be said that Pentecostalism is anchored in the unraveling of God’s Story in the history of Israel and in Jesus Christ (I am helped by Scot McKnight’s understanding of the Gospel here), and its promise fulfillment through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost (as portrayed in Acts 2).
Pentecostalism is, therefore, inextricably bound to and flows out of the scriptural narrative of God’s Pentecost, where the Spirit of God was poured out on the apostles and early believers. Through the power of the Spirit, who was poured out on the early disciples in Acts 2 and enabled them to be powerful witnesses for Christ, Pentecostals construct their own narrative—Jesus saves, Jesus heals, Jesus sanctifies, Jesus baptizes in the Spirit, and Jesus is coming back soon!
Hence, we say Pentecostalism is nothing but a full, all-in participation in the Story of Acts 2!
What does this Acts 2 Story mean?
As people of this Story of God’s Pentecost, we Pentecostals have the theological task of understanding the full meaning and implications of this story. In the great Christian tradition of St. Anselm of “faith seeking understanding,” Pentecostals should then ask: as participants of God’s Story of Acts 2, what does this mean to us today?
Classical Pentecostal theologian, Steven Land, writes:
Pentecost meant that the victory witnessed in the resurrection of the crucified one and the promised Parousia would not simply be told by those who wait passively for the soon coming of the Lord. No, the power of the age to come was being poured out upon the church for the accomplishment of a universal proclamation of the particular redemption in Jesus Christ, a proclamation in word and power and demonstration of the Spirit.
The power from on high that was poured out on Pentecost has an eschatological reference point. It is the power of God’s Kingdom to come now charging up everyone with the urgency of proclaiming the full gospel of the Kingdom to everyone before Christ’s return. Along those lines, Frank Macchia sees Spirit baptism as an eschatological embrace of the God’s Spirit. He has persuasively argued that the baptism of the Holy Spirit is a baptism of love, as the believer is baptized into the love of God toward a complete eschatological transformation and consummation in Christ.
Moreover, for Land, the whole point of this Acts 2 story for the early Pentecostals is “to experience life as part of a biblical drama of participation in God’s history.” He goes on to say:
When men and women came into Pentecostal services and experienced this eschatological power, this restoration of the apostolic age, they saw the Scriptures, themselves, and the world differently: the resurrection of Jesus as their own resurrection, the first Pentecost as their own ‘Pentecost’ the crucifixion of Jesus as their own crucifixion. All these events were telescoped, fused, and illumined by the expectation that became the message of the entire Pentecostal movement: ‘Jesus is coming soon!’
All this theological unpacking on Pentecost could seem a bit too much for one who is not theologically trained or literate. Then, how does an average Pentecostal in the pew understand all these? In other words, how does the ordinary believer relate to this continual reenactment of the Day of Pentecost narrative in his or her daily life that Land is describing?
I think it is traceable to this simple prayer: “Acts 2 – Do it again, Lord!”
To this, we say, Amen and Amen; Maranatha!
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