Where Do We Go From Here

Where Do We Go From Here

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Where Do We Go From Here?

It has been

suggested many

times in recent

years

that classic Pentecostalism and its sister in the Historic

churches,

charis- matic renewal, are at a crossroad. Pentecostalism has arrived at this

point

some

eight

or more decades after it first

erupted

in the US, having

made some movement from a

religion

of the store- front,

tent

meeting,

and brush

arbor,

to a position of reasonable respectability , glamorous

Christian

Centers,

and ever increas- ing

institutional

power.

Charismatic

renewal,

in the assessment of Richard

Quebedeaux

as described in his book The New Cha- rismatics II

(San

Francisco:

Harper

&

Row, Publishers, 1983), p.

239 “had ‘run out of steam’

by

the late 1970s – but not out of abiding significance.”

To be at a crossroad is not

necessarily

bad.

It,

in

fact,

offers ample opportunity

for one to assess

past experience,

to take stock of

present strengths, weaknesses,

and

resources,

and to plot

future direction. To be at a crossroad and not to take the opportunity

for reflection and self evaluation is to miss a

pre- cious moment for continued

growth

and a chance to make informed decisions.

This

past year

three articles which tend to underscore the reality

of the

present

crossroad have made their

way

into

print in different

theological journals.

Carl-Erik

Sahlberg

has

pub- lished an abstract of his dissertation

completed

at the

University of

Uppsala

in Sweden. It is a look

back,

in which he assesses the transition “From

Ecstacy [sic.]

to Enthusiasm: Some Trends in the Scientific Attitude to the Pentecostal

Movement,” Evangel- ical Review

of Theology

9:1 (January, 1985), 70-77. Prior to 1970,

the secular scientific

community

had treated Pentecostal- ism in a

negative light,

but he

notes,

since 1970 the scientific attitude toward Pentecostalism has

changed significantly

in its portrayal

of Pentecostals and their

practices.

He attributes this to Pentecostalism’s

( 1) rapid growth, (2) changing sociology, (3) self-awareness,

and

(4)

the rise of charasmatic renewal. While we may find

Sahlberg’s

observations to be of interest in a variety of ways, it is significant to note that he does raise some substan- tial issues not the least of which is related to the roots of Pente- costalism. Are Pentecostals

changing

so

rapidly

from who

they were that

they

are in

danger

of

forgetting

their raison ditre? How much

change

is good? How fast should it occur?

And,

what kinds of

changes

are

right

for the

present?

A second article, this one

by

John

Ponter,

looks at “The Charismatic Movement,” The

Expository

Times 96:8

(May,

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1985), 228-233,

and assesses both

past history

and

contempor- ary

needs. Its

place

as the fourteenth article in a

regular

series titled First Aid in Pastoral Care demonstrates that there are weaknesses in addition to the

many strengths

of the movement which remain with it.

Among

those weaknesses which the author has chosen to

highlight

are

(1) questions of exclusivism, elitism,

and

triumphalism

over the

expression

of what consiti- utes a legitimate experience of the

Holy Spirit, (2) questions

of appropriate

Biblical models of authority and excesses of certain kinds of authoritarianism,

(3) questions

of

spiritual maturity and

personal identity,

and

(4) questions

of world view.

Ponter has made some modest

suggestions,

but it is clear that many

of these

problems

confront Pentecostalism in much the same

way

that

they

exist in charismatic renewal. These issues need continued attention

by everyone

concerned if the cross- road is to become a valuable nexus for these movements and the larger church,

for

history

and

posterity.

Walter

Hollenweger,

known foremost for his work The Pen- tecostals

(Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1972)

as well as for his flair at

painting

the broad

sweep,

has contributed a reflective

piece titled “After

Twenty

Years’ Research on

Pentecostalism,” Theology

87 ( 1984), 403-412. While he is interested in the

past

as well as the

present

of the

movement,

he is also concerned with its future. Where will it

go, indeed,

where should it

go

in the decades ahead? He

projects

that

by

AD 2000 there should be nearly

as

many

Pentecostals on earth as there are in all other Protestant denominations

combined,

and the vast

majority

will be,

in fact

already are,

Third World Christians. In what

way(s) will their

participation

in the movement affect both faith and practice?

Hollenweger

raises

questions regarding

the

integration

of doctrine and

praxis

and notes the

growing

distance between the two in some cases.

Similarly

he raises

questions

of authority; the age

old

struggle

between charismatic

leadership

and institu- tional,

ecclesial structures is still alive. But, he raises

hopes,

too. Is

there,

for instance, a creative and

dynamic

ecumenism avail- able in charismatic renewal?

And,

is there a role for the Third World? Do

typical

Western and

Two/thirds

World mission policies

need further refinement or

rethinking altogether?

And where do the

many indigenous

movements fit in all of this? There

is, indeed, hope

as Pentecostalism and charismatic rene- wal

ponder

the future at the crossroad, but it is a

hope

which needs to take

seriously

the contribution of all Pentecostals and charismatic Christians. As

Hollenwager puts it,

either ” …

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Christians are successful in

finding

a new

unity,

which is not based

(or

at least

entirely based)

on the traditions of the West and its

organizational models,

or we will face a split in Chris- tianity

which will have more

painful consequences

than the

split between Catholics and Protestants

(p. 412).”

The

present

issue of Pneuma includes four articles which raise these and other

questions

for those who face the crossroad. Grant

McClung

like

Sahlberg,

has chosen to

survey

attitudes toward Pentecostalism

through

the mid-1980s. His focus is upon

the Church Growth Movement and its

growing

awareness of and

appreciation

for Pentecostalism. It is a movement which has been

changed

as much

by

its

exposure

to Pentecostalism as it has contributed to Pentecostal mission

policies.

What has Pentecostalism learned for the Church Growth movement that will now better inform its own future?

While one would not consider Romania to be a

part

of the Third

World,

it provides

nonetheless,

an

exciting example

of a church

developing

in a relatively isolated

setting,

untouched

by most of Western Pentecostalism for

nearly

half a century. David Bundy

has

provided

an historical and

literary survey

of Roman- ian Pentecostalism which has, in spite of

repressive government attitudes

grown

to

nearly

a quarter million members and adher- ents. It has also

developed

a

reasonably sophisticated

level of theological scholarship.

As Pentecostalism faces the

crossroad, what

insights might

these brothers and sisters

bring

to their counterparts

in the Western World? What

might they

teach the Pentecostal movement in the West about

prosperity,

about work and witness, about

authority

and

structure,

about free- dom and life in the

Spirit

under an

antagonistic government?

In what

way(s)

have

they

come to

express

their

spirituality

and how

might

it contribute to a more

fully

orbed western spirituality?

Walter

Hollenweger

noted in general terms the

importance

of genuine

ecumenism for the Church at the close of this

century. Jerry Sandidge

addresses the

subject specifically by reviewing the status of the now

decade-long

Roman

Catholic/

Pentecostal Dialogue,

a bilateral set of talks aimed at

furthering

communi- cation between two

disparate yet

sometimes

disarmingly

related traditions in the Church. The fact that the

participants

have “re-uped”

for a third

quinquennium

of talks

provides hope

for the future. But to date there has been no

official participation by any

American Pentecostal denominations. The door stands open,

and one can

only

wonder what

might happen

were

past hurts allowed to heal in the

process

of

gaining

further understanding.

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Finally, Margaret

Poloma has undertaken a

sociological study

of attitudes on divine

healing, discovering among

other items of

significance

that some of the excesses of certain inde- pendent healing evangelists

have made inroads into the

thinking of

many

Assemblies of God members. Claims to miraculous healings

run

high,

but

adequate understanding

continues to

lag. Further

study

and

teaching

on this and related

subjects

are undoubtedly

in order as Pentecostalism and charismatic rene- wal face the future.

To be at a crossroad is to be at a moment of opportunity. Ours is the

opportunity

to seek direction and to

plot

the course of where we

go

from here. The issues are

present,

if not

totally clear. Are we

up

to the task?

Cecil M.

Robeck, Editor

Jr.

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