A Historians Response

A Historians Response

Click to join the conversation with over 500,000 Pentecostal believers and scholars

Click to get our FREE MOBILE APP and stay connected

| PentecostalTheology.com

Pneuma 30 (2008) 245-254

A Historian’s Response

Daniel Ramírez

Arizona State University, Phoenix, Arizona 85287, USA

[email protected]

Introduction

This response reflects the concerns of a social historian. This disciplinary van- tage point prompts me to point to data that theologians often overlook, ignore, or dismiss. My comments pertain more to the process rather than the content of the Dialogue. True dialogue entails hard work and a measure of symmetry. As evident from other instances of ostensible religious dialogue (e.g., Franciscan friars and Aztec nobles in Mexico, Spanish conquistadors, Dominican priests and Incan leaders in Peru), disparate existential circumstances can make for vastly different ways of seeing the world and one’s place in it, for different questions that one sees fit to pose to that world, and for different ways of comprehending an other’s understanding about that world.1 Scholars are not exempt from these epistemological and ideological constraints; one’s social and intellectual formation and position can obscure the broader picture and limit one’s view of other ships passing by. History is replete with examples of this incommensurability. Mindful of this, I propose to address the following questions: Is the Trinitarian/Oneness Dialogue a case of ships passing in the night? Has the Dialogue allowed some grappling hooks to be joined? Is the Dialogue meant to steer the heterodox vessel of Oneness Pentecostalism in a more orthodox current?

One way to assess the Trinitarian-Oneness Dialogue is to place it within a historical and comparative frame. T ankfully, we do not have to go too far back. For this, I am indebted to Jerry Sandidge’s insider study of the Roman

1

Walter Mignolo, The Darker Side of the Renaissance: Literacy, Territoriality, and Colonization (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1995); Rolena Adorno, Guaman Poma: Writing and Resistance in Colonial Peru (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1986); Sabine G. MacCormack, “Atahualpa y el libro,” Revista de Indias 48, no. 184 (1988): 693-714.

© Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2008 DOI: 10.1163/157007408X346384

1

246

D. Ramírez / Pneuma 30 (2008) 245-254

Catholic-Pentecostal Dialogue, 1972-1982.2 In his analysis, Sandidge noted several problems of incommensurability in the exchange. I will mention just two, interlocution and interdisciplinarity, features which also seem to have obtained in the current Dialogue.

Interlocutors: Coherence, Diversity, and Power

During the first two 5-year periods of the Roman Catholic-Pentecostal Dia- logue, the Catholic team underwent a full vetting by the Vatican’s Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity (a post-Vatican II agency). This institutional ownership provided coherence; the expert team that was fielded had acquired valuable training through earlier and parallel dialogues between the Vatican and mainline Protestant traditions like Methodism and Lutheranism. The new partnering, however, may have carried eerie echoes of Cardinal Jacopo Sadoleto’s prescient warning to the reforming Christians of mid-16th century Geneva: “Once you have split from the organic trunk of the Catholic church,” the Italian prelate warned, “what is to prevent you from splitting and splitting again?”3 In the Dialogue the Catholics were never quite sure from one year to the next with whom they would be reasoning together. Mostly they knew that they would be speaking with David du Plessis and his network of friends in the Pentecostal World Conference. To their disappointment, however, in spite of a decade of courting, they failed to enlist their most coveted would-be part- ner, the U.S. Assemblies of God, owing in part to that denomination’s dis- avowal of du Plessis’s ecumenism. To borrow a pugilistic metaphor, for the Catholic side, dialogue with Pentecostals was a bit like shadow boxing.

Nevertheless, the ships sailed on (to return to our maritime metaphor). About midway through the voyage, the conveners took note of a signifi cant absence: the Dialogue was skewed heavily in favor of the First World churches: European, North American, and Anglophone. In other words, the ecclesial, social, and political developments in Europe and North America (excluding Mexico) framed the context within which a primarily theological dialogue occurred. Put simply, no Latin Americans appeared on either the Catholic or Pentecostal roster. As a result, the Dialogue failed to replicate itself or to take

2

Jerry L. Sandidge, Roman Catholic/Pentecostal Dialogue, 1977-1982: A Study in Developing Ecumenism (Frankfurt: Peter Lang, 1987), vols. 1 and 2.

3

My paraphrase is taken from John C. Olin., ed., A Reformation Debate: Sadoleto’s Letter to the Genevans and Calvin’s Reply (New York: Harper and Row, 1966).

2

D. Ramírez / Pneuma 30 (2008) 245-254

247

hold in other settings, especially in those regions where Catholicism’s and Pentecostalism’s seats of gravity had dramatically relocated.4 Glaring inconsis- tencies became evident. For example, while Rome’s oficial discourse lamented the historic “separation between brethren” (i.e., historic Protestants) and the Secretariat evidenced the highest standards of civility and patience in the ofi- cial Dialogue, Catholic prelates in Latin America continued to wield the pejo- rative term “sectas” during the hemispheric episcopal conclaves of CELAM (often with Pope John Paul II in the room or employing the term himself).5 As another example, the papal nuncio in Mexico sought to limit that country’s 1992 softening reform of its Constitution’s strict anti-clerical clauses to churches numbering more than one million adherents, arguing that in such matters the elephant deserved diff erent treatment and attention than did pesky fl ies. Clearly, the Secretariat’s ecumenical press releases failed to reach Mexico City or points south of there.

On the other side of the Dialogue, the Pentecostal team was ostensibly broadened by the inclusion of a participant from Brazil, a Canadian-American missionary of a non-native denomination. Clearly, the theory, practice, and praxis of most of the world’s Pentecostals were kept off the Dialogue’s table. In spite of the purest of intentions, by ignoring or not wrestling seriously with the question of asymmetric power in the world, the Dialogue imbedded itself within and replicated systems of inequitable power and knowledge produc- tion. The absences and silences mattered as much as if not more than the participant roster and proceedings. T ere is power in the ability to name and describe oneself; and there is power in the ability to name and describe an other. To claim to speak for an other represents an exercise of power.

T at the Trinitarian-Oneness Dialogue took place under the auspices of the Society of Pentecostal Theology speaks highly of the SPS; that the SPS is one of the few sites that the Dialogue could have occurred speaks volumes about the splintered state of U.S. Pentecostalism. But even the Society escapes its social, geographic and ideological captivity with great dificulty. A mostly North American prism skews its global religious view. If Talmadge French’s estimate

4

Ecumenist Jeff rey Gros noted this imbalance in terms of the Mainline Protestant-Pentecos- tal dialogue. Jeff rey Gross, FSC, “A Pilgrimage in the Spirit: Pentecostal Testimony in the Faith and Order Movement,” Pneuma: The Pentecostal Theology 25:1 (Spring 2003): 52-53.

5

Pope John Paul II labeled “sects” and “pseudo-spiritual movements” as “rapacious wolves.” Dean Peerman, “CELAM IV: Manuevering and Marking Time in Santo Domingo — Fourth General Conference of Latin American Bishops,” Christian Century (February 17, 1993).

3

248

D. Ramírez / Pneuma 30 (2008) 245-254

of Oneness Pentecostalism’s global reach is correct, then the Dialogue fell far short of the mark of representation, especially when we consider that in such places as Mexico, Columbia, Ethiopia and China, the ratio of Oneness to Trinitarian Pentecostals is vastly higher than in the U.S.6 An expanded dia- logue refl ecting these global demographics would then have to include, of course, sabbatarian practices, docetic christologies, and prophetic strongman ecclesiologies in many of these places. The elephant-fl y equation looks quite diff erent in other settings.

Added to this perspectival problem were those of coherence and voice. With whom does one partner? To paraphrase Sadoleto, with which split of a split is one to engage? Once again, the global North assuaged any concern over inco- herence by tagging the perceived fl agship denomination of U.S. Oneness Pen- tecostalism to represent the dialogical partner. This is understandable. After all, that denomination’s dominance in theological production and publishing earned it a place at the table. But in settling on a limited roster, the Dialogue organizers mistakenly assumed the existence of a coherent fl otilla behind the fl agship denomination or mistook a rag tag assembly of vessels for a fl o- tilla. Should the Dialogue move into a second and third phase, it will be a challenge for the Trinitarian side to stay abreast of developments within One- ness Pentecostalism.7 Perhaps they can learn even more than they expected from the Vatican’s Secretariat, namely, the virtue of patience. In fact, it may be a moot point to refer to a Trinitarian-Oneness Dialogue in the case of African American Apostolics, who have long been sorting out their relations — and sometimes exercising leadership — within the broader Black Church. The same could be said for the Iglesia Apostólica of Mexico, which has long exer- cised leadership within Mexican Protestantism vis a vis a hegemonic Catholi- cism and secular state.

Several SPS colleagues have long been reminding us that it is a particular U.S. conceit to speak of Pentecostal history primarily in terms of U.S. history,

6

Talmadge French, Our God is One: The Story of the Oneness Pentecostals (Indianapolis: Voice & Vision Publications, 1999).

7

The current structural implosion of U.S. Oneness Pentecostalism buttresses my point about representation and coherence. During the period of the Dialogue, the United Pentecostal Church International has spun off the more conservative World Pentecostal Fellowship (the Dialogue may have confi rmed the worst fears of the schismatic “ultra cons”), and several leading African American (Pentecostal Assemblies of the World and Bible Way Church of our Lord Jesus Christ) and Latino (Apostolic Assembly of the Faith in Christ Jesus) denominations have experienced signifi cant schisms, defections, and electoral strife.

4

D. Ramírez / Pneuma 30 (2008) 245-254

249

sites, and issues.8 T ey have a point. The Dialogue limited itself to a thin stra- tum of U.S. Pentecostalism that represents but a small slice of the global move- ment, both Trinitarian and Oneness. I think that such a dialogue would look and sound very diff erently were it to occur in Buenos Aires, Mexico City, Bei- jing, Nairobi or . . . Harlem.

Interdisciplinarity or the Conceit of T eological Method

The heart of the Dialogue report, of course, concerns belief and doctrine: the search for “a clearer understanding of Oneness and Trinitarian Pentecostal per- spectives,” and for “fresh insights into commonalities [that] . . . would . . . pro- vide for a more meaningful form of witness between the traditions.” The multi-year agenda explored such topics as common origins, baptism, Christol- ogy, the Trinity, soteriology, sanctification and holiness. However, doctrines and beliefs do not arise in vacuums. Neither are they contested in vacuums. They are articulated by historical, social beings, and embraced or rejected — and dare I say constructed — by social communities.9 We often forget that the doctrinal consensus reached at the Council of Nicea was not the product of a lovely seminar full of detached but critical theologians. The fate of an empire hung in the balance. The comparative study of doctrine, then, remains incom- plete if the social, geo-political, and historical context of foundational moments of doctrinal crystallization and later moments of understanding and represen- tation are not taken into account. Such study should also reach outside of and expand the discipline of theology.

This brings me to the other problem noted by Sandidge in the Catholic- Pentecostal Dialogue: mismatched expertise. The Catholic side boasted a deep bench of scholars trained in historical-critical method; the Pentecostals were pastors and evangelists and budding scholars. It took time for the latter group to gain intellectual traction and for the former group to let their spiritual hair down a bit (through deep, meaningful joint worship). In the fi nal analysis, Sandidge also noted, the terms of the Dialogue should have been expanded to

8

Dale T. Irvin, “Pentecostal Historiography and Global Christianity: Rethinking the Question of Origins,” Pneuma: The Pentecostal Theology 27:1 (Spring 2005), 35-50.

9

I am thinking, of course, of work in the sociology of knowledge. See Peter Berger and T omas Luckmann, The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge (New York: Anchor Books, 1966), and Peter Berger, The Sacred Canopy: Elements of a Sociological T eory of Religion (New York: Doubleday, 1967).

5

250

D. Ramírez / Pneuma 30 (2008) 245-254

include one of Pentecostalism’s salient strengths: narrative theology expressed through story, testimony and song. Of course, three-and-a-half decades later, the SPS and academy have incubated a critical mass of scholars that can go toe-to-toe with Catholic counterparts. But given the diff erent social and his- torical trajectories of U.S. Trinitarian and Oneness movements, the problem of mismatched teams remains. While a leading exponent of the Oneness posi- tion led his team, the very fact that he had to contribute a paper in at least 3 of the 5 years speaks to the state of theological maturation on the Oneness side. Again, Trinitarians will need to exercise charity if they truly hope for a meaningful Dialogue; after all it took the ancient Church over three centuries to evolve to the point of theological sophistication evidenced at Nicea. A meaningful Dialogue also will require continued humility on the Trinitarian side, or at least a frank recognition that the terms of debate have been set in such a way as to stack the odds in favor of an Orthodoxy whose scaff olding refl ects as much Graeco-Roman philosophical method as it does Hebraic con- cepts (the ostensible strength of the radically monotheistic Oneness position).

The pioneering work of historical theologian David Reed points in the direction of interdisciplinarity, in particular, his discussion of the Christocen- tric spirituality of nineteenth-century American evangelicals.10 T is hyper Christocentric stream can be understood in light of its devotions as expressed through its musical culture: “Jesus, Lover of My Soul, Let Me to T y Bosom Fly;” “All to Jesus I surrender, all to Him I freely give;” “What can take away my sins? Nothing but the blood of Jesus.” Victorian-era evangelicals waxed misty when singing about Jesus. Rarely did they do so when singing about the Trinity. T us, Reed observed that, for all practical purposes evangelicals of this period were proto-oneness in devotion. When they walked in the garden alone with Jesus, all Heaven (the Godhead) came along. The evangelicals caught up in the new Pentecost were, in a sense, predestined to see “Jesus only.” Driven by Protestantism’s restorationist impulse, some Pentecostals followed the primitivist streak to its logical conclusion.11 T ey took the Reformation’s dic- tum about sola scriptura much further than the reformers intended. In throw- ing out the clouded bathwater of church tradition they also threw out Orthodoxy’s baby, the Holy Trinity. T at story is too complex to unfold here

10

David A. Reed., “Aspects of the Origins of Oneness Pentecostalism” in Vinson Synan, ed., Aspects of Pentecostal-Charismatic Origins (Plainfi eld, NJ: Logos International, 1975).

11

See Grant Wacker’s discussion of the early movement’s twin tensions, primitivism and prag- matism, in Grant Wacker, Heaven Below: Early Pentecostals and American Culture (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001).

6

D. Ramírez / Pneuma 30 (2008) 245-254

251

beyond a cursory description. Others have rendered it more fully.12 However, as a social historian, I would ask a diff erent set of questions about the emer- gence of Oneness Pentecostalism.

In a nutshell, experience pre-determined the split over a theology of the Godhead and a theology/soteriology of the Name of Jesus as much as if not more so than received theological traditions. Pentecostals’ obsession with copying the Acts of the Apostles impacted their hermeneutic of all New Testa- ment (and, for that matter, Old Testament) scripture. To borrow from libera- tion theology’s insights, praxis informed belief. T us, the data of water baptisms in the name of Jesus throughout the book of Acts prompted an interrogation of the received tradition of invoking an ontological Trinity per Matthew 28:19. The conclusion? Do as Peter and Paul did or had done to them, and not as Jesus is reported to have said. The replication of the newly perceived apostolic pattern led, of course, to other important corollaries. Chief among these: that the triune titles amounted to descriptions of God’s activity in the world, and that the apostolic fulfi llment of Mattthew 28:19 could best be seen in Peter’s Day of Pentecost instructions in Acts 2:38. Primitivist Pentecostals experi- enced a new resonance with many other Biblical passages (e.g., “For in him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.” Colossians 2:9). T ey also claimed a heightened power and eficacy in healings and spirit baptisms as they invoked the name and blood of Jesus.

While documentation exists of Jesus’ name baptism since Charles Parham’s early ministry, we can surmise that the alternative baptismal formula would not have provoked a strong reaction had the reforming party not insisted on the rebaptism of believers previously baptized under the Trinitarian formula. And once the classic understanding of the Trinity — one God in three coequal, cosubstantial and coeternal persons — was placed up for grabs, all hell and heaven broke loose. The “New Issue” tore at the infant Assemblies of God, ruptured the Finished Work camp of U.S. Pentecostalism, and took deep root in African American and Latino spiritual soils. This last fact and process merits deeper study.

For those familiar with the seminal episode of the 1913 Arroyo Seco (between Los Angeles and Pasadena) camp meeting, my description may seem too brief for such a momentous watershed. After all, it was from there that the first theological volley of the Oneness position was sent “around the world.” T ere

12

Douglas Jacobsen has systematized the theological ideas of Oneness pioneers G.T. Hay- wood, Andrew Urshan and Robert C. Lawson. Douglas Jacobsen, T inking in the Spirit: T eolo- gies of the Early Pentecostal Movement (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2003).

7

252

D. Ramírez / Pneuma 30 (2008) 245-254

R. E. McAlister first mentioned — almost cursorily — in a sermon that the Apostles had administered baptism in the name of Jesus. T ere John G. Schaepe woke the camp with his clarion call heralding a new revelation of the power of Jesus’ name. From there Frank Ewart and others left to ponder this “new thing” for the next twelve months. But like Azusa, Arroyo Seco was accorded a mythic status in early histories that now requires critical interrogation. For example, in the Latino apostolic tradition, pioneer layman Luis Lopez dated his Jesus’ name baptism to 1909 in Otay-San Diego, the year of the disenfran- chisement of “poor humble Mexicans” (Frank Bartleman’s term) at Azusa.13 The first Apostolic Assembly presider, Francisco Llorente (an immigrant from Acapulco), was similarly baptized in 1912 in San Diego at the hands of evan- gelist Juan Navarro. Certainly, all his disciples and their disciples evidenced a robust Oneness position from the beginning. And importantly, the matriarch of apostolicism in Mexico, Romana Carbajal de Valenzuela (another immi- grant) transported a robust Oneness theology and soteriology when she left for Chihuahua, Mexico in early 1914 — before Frank Ewart’s conclusive rebap- tism.14 The several denominations that derived from the revival embers carried by Valenzuela all developed a strong Oneness identity.15 In other words, as historians have come to appreciate the complexity of Pentecostalism’s origins, so we must at least consider ratcheting down Arroyo Seco as the singular touchstone event for Oneness Pentecostalism. Again, the dialectic between praxis and belief may help us to frame a broader and more nuanced under- standing of the emergence of Oneness Pentecostalism, an understanding that does not privilege the dominant narrative of an Assemblies of God rupture. This brings me once again to the matter of an earlier Evangelicalism’s prepara- tory (hyper-Christocentric) spirituality. If the soil had been prepared broadly, other seeds could have fallen and taken root in other places. Certainly, the relatively greater preponderance of Oneness Pentecostalism among African Americans and Mexicans and Mexican Americans (I estimate one-half of

13

Frank Bartleman, Azusa Street: The Roots of Modern-Day Pentecost , ed. Vinson Synan (Plain- fi eld, NJ: Logos International, 1980, original How “Pentecost” Came to Los Angeles — How It Was in the Beginning , 1925), 58-59.

14

See Daniel Ramírez, “Borderlands Praxis: The Immigrant Experience in Latino Pentecostal Churches,” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 67:3 (September 1999): 573-596; idem, “Migrating Faiths: A Social and Cultural History of Pentecostalism in the U.S.-Mexico Border- lands” (Ph.D. dissertation, Duke University, 2005).

15

Several strands of Mexican and Mexican American apostolicism have also proved less sec- tarian than others, as evidenced by widower pioneer Francisco Llorente’s marriage to the Meth- odist Juanita Peach.

8

D. Ramírez / Pneuma 30 (2008) 245-254

253

Mexican and Mexican American classic Pentecostals are of Oneness persua- sion) argues against a tabula rasa approach, and suggests that a unitary history of Oneness Pentecostalism is no longer viable; neither are projections about its future. The multiplicity of experience and perspectives requires an expansion of the Dialogue into a Conversation.

Musical T eology: Interdisciplinary Insights

I will offer one example of the rewards of interdisciplinary work. Postcolonial history challenges us to take a new look at sites and agents (female as well as male) in the overlooked crevices of borderlands, barrios, ghettos and domes- tic spheres. Methodologically, it demands a supple interdisciplinarity and a nuanced hermeneutic. When studying doctrinal identity, dialoguing theolo- gians should consider consulting such fields as cultural studies, ethnomusicol- ogy, anthropology, and sociology. For example, the theological case studies of, say, G. T. Haywood and Robert C. Lawson should also pay close attention to the composition, performance and popular consumption of their considerable hymnody. This is even more so the case for Latino Oneness pioneers whose hymnodic record is as important as their textual documentary one. Latino apostolic theology is a sung, performed theology. Of course, to begin to appre- ciate this, the Dialogue would have to widen its heretofore monolinguistic spectrum.

The sonic sphere has for too long been ghettoized by scholars. Pentecostals of all colors and locations used music to demarcate doctrinal and ecclesial turf. Oneness dissidents were ushered out of the Assemblies of God 1916 General Council to the tune of “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty” and its fi nal line, “God in T ree Persons, Blessed Trinity.” By that time, though, G. T. Haywood had already composed “Baptized into the Body,” which recipro- cated the exclusionary thrust: “Every creed has claim’d to be the Body, but the ‘plumb-line’ proved untrue. All their dreams by God determined to bring His Son’s True Bride to view.” Indeed, within the decade, the following composi- tions by Haywood, Lawson, George Farrow, William Booth-Clibborn, and others lifted high the doctrinal banner: “All in Him,” “Down from His Glory,” “Do All in Jesus’ Name,” “Go on in Jesus’ Name,” “God Died for Me,” “God is Great in My Soul,” “His Name Should Be Praised,” “I Know Him,” “Jesus Our All in All,” “My God I Know His Name,” “Praise Our God,” “The Great I Am,” “The Life-Giving Name,” “The Lord of Lords,” “The Name of God” and “The Water Way.” And that is just the first decade! Not to be outdone but

9

254

D. Ramírez / Pneuma 30 (2008) 245-254

in a diff erent context, that of the borderlands, Latino Apostolic composers like Elvira Herrera, Francisco Llorente, Marcial de la Cruz, José Ortega, Benjamin Cantú and later, Lorenzo Salazar off ered up: “Jesucristo es el Nombre” (Jesus Christ is the Name), “Jesús es Dios” (Jesus is God), “El Mensaje” (The Mes- sage), “Divinidad Plena de Jesús” (Full Divinity of Jesus), and “El Nombre del Mesías” (The Name of the Messiah). In terms of both lyrical content and musical frame, this repertoire’s data await expert scholarly mining.

Forged in interstitial spaces of existential instability and creativity (between nation-states and majority cultures and in Appalachian hollows and brush arbors), these heterodox musics were carried in the hearts and luggage of a migrating proletariat and peasantry. At first, they held scant promise of being inscribed into the mainstream consciousness and practice of, say, either U.S. Protestantism or Mexican Catholicism. In the U.S., the continued strength of the Anglo-Puritan core relegated subaltern musics (spirituals, blues, country western, tejano/norteño, Black [and Appalachian] Gospel, etc.) to the aesthetic periphery. T at sidelining, however, aff orded the periphery its cre- ative power; there, subaltern subjects freely traded expressive cultures across racial, linguistic, class, geopolitical, and theological lines. T is popular, pew- driven ecumenicity, what the Dialogue report calls “grassroots participation,” has been a hallmark of Pentecostalism. The dynamic religious musical cultures incubated in border and contact zones merely had to await moments of fi ssure and fatigue in more mainline liturgical systems. Sooner or later, the opportu- nistic barbarians would bridge Orthodoxy’s gates. (The current angst — and excitement — over emergent church responses to postmodernity refl ects a similar phenomenon.) To understand this process, theologians need to be in dialogue with other disciplines. Or to return to our maritime metaphor, they would do well to listen to the songs of the Ships of Zion. Hopefully, the next iterations of the Trinitarian-Oneness Dialogue will be a little more musical as well as more inclusive.

10

Be first to comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.