Pentecostals And Social Ethics

Pentecostals And Social Ethics

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103

Pentecostals and Social Ethics

Revivalism and Social

Reform (Abingdon, 1957)

was a book borne out of a 1955

prize-winning essay

written

by

a

youthful Nazarene historian,

Timothy

L. Smith. In

it,

Smith showed how nineteenth

century evangelists “played

a key role in the

widespread attack

upon slavery, poverty,

and

greed” (p. 8). Two decades later, Donald W.

Dayton

of the

Wesleyan church, penned

a series of articles in a Christian counter-culture tabloid, the Post-American. These articles were

ultimately brought together

under the title Discovering

an

Evangelical Heritage (Harper

& Row,

1976). Dayton’s

concern was to reconcile two

seemingly

irreconcilable currents in his own

experience:

his

“evangelical”

or holiness heritage

and the values of the student movements of the 60s.

In each

case,

these authors and their readers were

surprised by what

they

found. Revivalism and the Holiness Movement were both

deeply

involved in

bringing

about social transformation. The battles which

they waged

on issues of civil

rights

and social

justice were battles

against

issues

deeply

rooted in American

religion

and culture.

The means

by which they

chose to

fight

them included the preaching

of non-violence and

engagement

in selected acts of civil disobedience. The effect which came as a result was substantial.

Chattel

slavery

was abolished in the US. Women were

recognized as

legitimate

heirs to the call of God into full-time

ministry.

Social programs

were

developed

to aid the

poor.

Laws were enacted to mediate the

power

of the

powerful.

But what does this have to do with

pentecostals?

In many ways, pentecostals

are heirs both to revivalism and to the Holiness Movement.

The spiritual

and social commitments of these movements lie behind the birth of Pentecostalism. Yet for the most

part, pentecostals

are

ignorant

of their

heritage

and are not

widely known for their

continuing

contribution to the resolution of social justice

issues. In

many instances, pentecostals

have come to question

those who

question

the status

quo. They

have become selective in the

way they

understand the concerns of

evangelism. They

have

carefully

chosen the elements of Jesus’

ministry

with which

they

wish to be identified. And this is especially true within the North American context.

According

to

Luke,

Jesus stood at the

beginning

of his

ministry and

proclaimed:

The

Spirit

of the Lord is upon

me,

because he has anointed me to

preach

good

news to the

poor.

1

104

He has sent me to

proclaim

release

to the

captives

and

recovering

of

sight

to the

blind,

to set at

liberty

those who are

oppressed,

to

proclaim

the

acceptable year

of the

Lord.

(Luke 4:18-19; RSV)

Pentecostals have often

preached

this

passage

as

though they were

empowered

to do these

things. [Cf.

Alice E.

Luce,

Pictures

of Pentecost

(Springfield: GPH, 1950) 169-174.]

And in many

respects they

have done an admirable

job. They

have

preached

the

good news to the

spiritually poor. They

have

brought

release to

many

in spiritual captivity.

Their involvement in

signs

and wonders has opened many

blind

eyes

to the

power

of the

Gospel.

The once spiritually oppressed

now

testify

of the liberation

they

have found in Jesus Christ. And

pentecostals

have been faithful in their proclamation

that this is the

“acceptable year

of the Lord.” But these successes have been

largely

limited

by a spiritualized

hermene- utic

given

an existence

totally independent

from a literal one.

While

pentecostals

have ministered

freely

to those

enduring spiritual poverty, they

have often

ignored

the

plight

of the economically

or socially deprived of our

society.

Their

approach

all too often has been to move

away

from the

city,

and

away

from the poor,

and to

argue

that Jesus

anticipated

that we would

always have the

problem

of the

poor

around.

Perhaps

it is the case that pentecostals

have wanted to distance themselves from their own disadvantaged past. Thus, they

have sometimes

reinterpreted

the problem

in

spiritual

terms. “You have not because

you

ask not,” they say.

The result has been to

promise

a

heavenly reward, designed

to

encourage

the

acceptance

of

present conditions,

or it has led to the

development

of deviant

theologies

of health and wealth. Pentecostals have

typically

overlooked those who are captive

to the abuses of the

unjust

structures

of society

or ideology, and at times have turned their

eyes away

from the

plight

of those who are

oppressed by

their fellow human

beings,

whether

by economic, political, social, military

or even

religious

means. Until recent

years,

the

tying

of

physical healing

to ones own faith in the atoning

work of Christ has led to little if any concern for

physical healing

other than

by

means of

prayer.

This

brings

us back to where we

began.

Pentecostals are the offspring

of nineteenth

century

revivalism and of the Holiness Movement. How is it, then, that such vital movements, such socially

active movements as these, have had such little

impact upon

the current

generation

of pentecostals in this

regard?

Has this always

been the case?

Perhaps

it is easier to answer the second question

first.

_

2

105

In the

early days

of the Pentecostal revival there were

many holiness

people

who became

pentecostal

and who saw their social commitments

potentially empowered by

the

Holy Spirit

to an even greater degree through

their new

pentecostal experience.

Finis E. Yoakum, M.D.,

for

example,

was reared in the Cumberland Presbyterian Church,

then became a Methodist. He was a neuro- surgeon

who

reportedly

made

$18,000

a month and held the Chair of Mental Diseases at Gross Medical

College

in Denver.

Following a near fatal accident in 1894 he came to Los

Angeles

where he was healed

through

the

prayer

of a holiness

pastor.

He

began

to

preach divine

healing

and had a pentecostal

experience.

At the direction received in a vision, he set

up

what became known as the

Pisgah Home Movement. It

provided help

to the

homeless,

the

poor,

and such social outcasts as alcoholics,

drug addicts,

and

prostitutes. By 1911 he was

supplying 9,000

clean beds and

18,000

meals each month to the

indigent. People

such as

Stanley

H. Frodsham were closely

associated with his

ministry

which was

widely

advertized in The Latter Rain

Evangel,

Word and

Work, and Confidence magazines.

. George

and Carrie

(Judd) Montgomery

lived in the San Francisco Bay

area from 1890 onward. Carrie had been reared in the Episcopal

Church, but following

her sudden and dramatic

healing had

alligned

with the

healing

and Holiness Movements. Carrie established a

healing

home in

Buffalo, published

a

journal, Triumphs of

Faith, and traveled

with such notable

figures

as A.B. Simpson

and W.E. Boardman.

George

made a vast fortune in mining,

stock

trading,

and other business investments. When George

and Carrie settled in

Oakland, CA., they joined

the Salvation

Army,

the Christian & Missionary

Alliance,

and later the Assemblies of God.

They published the journal

until

1946, donated property

for a retirement home for

aged

“colored” folk and for a Salvation

Army

Rescue

Home, provided

financial

support

to a variety

of

early pentecostal

missionaries and

evangelists,

built an orphanage,

founded a mission on the

Barbary Coast,

financed extensive mission work

among Hispanics

in the Southwest and in Mexico,

and constructed the Home of Peace where missionaries could rest while en route to or from the mission field.

Frank Bartleman

spoke publicly

on a wide

range

of

social, economic, political,

and ecclesiastical issues. Never one to mince words,

or to soft

peddle

what he

believed,

Bartleman

literally inundated the

pentecostal press

with his strident assessments. Not only

did he critique Federal

spending programs, question

whether the US had a free

press, harangue

artificial market

supports, plea for food

give-away programs,

and rebuke certain economic and

.

.

.

.

3

106

militaristic

practices

in his

day,

he criticized certain

pentecostal practices

with

equal vigor.

He considered

many pentecostals

to be too

willing

to

compromise

their

calling

and

join

forces

against

a “biblical” form of

pacifism,

allow American civil

religion

to be preached

from the

pentecostal pulpit, support

economic

policies which were

oppressive

to the

poor,

and

engage

in activities which would

deprive

the

missionary message

of the

ring

of truth.

A book titled

Discovering

a Pentecostal

Heritage

could

easily

be

on these

characters,

as well as the likes of

Lilian

penned including chapters

A.J. Tomlinson, and his ministry to the

poor

in Appalachia, Trasher and her

orphanage

for

Egyptian children,

Aimee

Semple McPherson and her

Temple Commissary,

and William J.

Seymour’s contribution to racial

equality

in the church. The answer to the second

question,

then is that at its

inception pentecostalism

had a variety

of

people

who worked on social issues.

Yet the first

question

still needs a response. At least three factors must enter into the discussion. First, the millennial

perspective

of pentecostals

differs

markedly

from that of

many

revivalists and holiness folk of the nineteenth

century. Shortly

before the turn of the

century

it

changed

from a

post-millennial

to a

pre-millennial positions

Hence

pentecostals

came at a time when

“evangelicals” didn’t have time to think about

building

the

Kingdom

of God. Its coming

in

power

was imminent.

Second,

the rise of old liberalism and the social

gospel

tended to taint

pentecostal, holiness,

and evangelical

involvement with issues of social

justice.

It became identified as a “liberal”

tool,

and therefore as something “off limits” to

pentecostals. Third,

the issue of

peer pressure

also came into play.

As pentecostals rubbed shoulders with

evangelicals they

also adopted

the values and concerns of

evangelicals

who stood over against

the “liberals” who

employed

the social

gospel.

Since the rise of charismatic renewal,

questions

of social

justice have

again

been raised and calls for charismatics to

engage

in social issues have also been heard. Lutheran minister

Larry

Christianson provided

the first feeble

attempt

in his A Charismatic

Approach

to Social Action

(Bethany, 1974).

Shiela Macmanos

Fahey

soon followed with Charismatic Social Action:

Reflection/

Resource Manual

(Paulist, 1977).

The third “Malines Document” Charis- matic Renewal and Social Action: A

Dialogue (Servant, 1979)

was co-authored

by

Cardinal

Leon-Joseph

Suenens and social activist Archbishop,

Dom Helder Camara. More

recently,

a call for social responsibility

has come from Peter M. Moonie of Australia in “The Charismatic Renewal and Social Action: A Call to

Involvement,” Zadok Centre News 19 (July,

1981)

10-13.

4

107

This issue of Pneuma

provides

us with four articles which are focused around the

subject

of social ethics. Should

pentecostals have one? If so, what should it look like? Richard Mouw

lays

the foundation

by pointing

out some of the biases which

typically underlie the

subject

when

approached by

Christians who relate to the

Trinity

in a specific

way. “Many,”

he argues, “do not associate an

emphasis

on life in the

Spirit

with an

aggressive program

of social

justice.”

He calls for a clear

dependence upon

God the

Holy Spirit

as but one

person

of the Triune

God,

for

power

to do whatever we are asked to do.

Murray Dempster approaches

social ethics first from the stand- point

of the Old Testament. He shows how

deeply embedded,

issues of social

justice

were in

Israel,

and he moves to a recognition that they are just

as important for the

pentecostal

of today. He warns us that the Christian faith can be transformed into an

ideology

that may “unwittingly

serve the cause of oppression.”Thus, he challenges pentecostals

to

identify

a “distinctively

pentecostal starting point for

theological

reflection on moral existence.” He believes that this may

be found in the

pentecostal experience

of Acts 2.

Two

specific

issues are

analyzed

in relationship to

social justice. Leonard Lovett a black,

pentecostal,

urban

pastor

assesses the subject

in light of the now

frequent appeal

to Liberation

Theology. He notes that “authentic liberation must be

grounded

in

spiritual encounter.” In the midst of that

encounter,

he maintains, one

may experience

the

power

and

glory

of the

Spirit.

Miroslav Volf, a pentecostal

who lives in a socialist

state, Yugoslavia,

assesses the subject

of work. He finds in a developed theology of the charismata the answer which is able to

bring

about social transformation in the workplace,

with an ultimate

impact upon society.

The

question

of whether

pentecostals

and charismatics should have or

develop

a social ethic

clearly anticipates

an affirmative response

in

today’s

situation. The success of

pentecostalism

in Third World nations has

only

increased the need to deal with

many practical problems

of everyday life as well as with

global

issues. It is my hope

that these articles will spark debate and discussion within the

Society

for Pentecostal Studies in such a way that the mission of Christ

may

be more

effectively accomplished by pentecostals

and charismatics who will draw

upon

the

power

of God’s

Spirit

to

bring about transformation in the

complex marketplace

of everyday life.

Cecil M.

Robeck,

Jr. Editor

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