Never let it be said that a Pentecostal would be less than forward thinking. After all, we are continually accused of living in the future with insufficient regard to the present. Our detractors have indicated that we focus on the ‘End of Days’ (escaton) to the exclusion of compassion and social conscience. This can be easily refuted by a factual review of the expenditures and ministries of the major Pentecostal denominations; however that is for another day. Instead I’d like to show just how traditional Pentecost really is.
Recently I was embroiled in an unwanted debate regarding the fact that Evangelicals & Fundamentalists, Protestant Catholics, Roman Catholics, Coptics, Orthodox, and Pentecostals all variously (and contradictorily) claim the succession of the Early Church and the Apostolic Faith. The person in question was clearly trying to create dissension and controversy, so the discussion rapidly devolved into streams of obscure historical references and ancient doctrines.
This often occurs as the ‘so called’ traditional churches generally wish to pull out the ‘bazooka’ of their long history to prove their supremacy. While I like to be as forward thinking as any Pentecostal, let me take a moment to correct some misconceptions.
The common misconception is that the Pentecostal movement began some 250 years ago in Sweden, and spread to England then to the United States — where it found fertile ground spawning new and Evangelical denominations as well as various heretical cults.
This is a view unfortunately espoused even in the official histories of those various ‘Evangelical’ denominations, to their discredit. This is an unfortunate misconception that denies the very real suffering and at time martyrdom of the fathers of the Pentecostal movement.
The modern expression of the Pentecostal movement did in fact have a brief excursion into the Irvingite movement which became the foundation of the modern Baptist Churches, however the Baptist churches and the Irvingite movement are in fact evangelical or, to be more accurate, Calvinist in their origins. As Calvinists they still cling to the belief that God has arbitrarily chosen a few people to save and arbitrarily damns the remainder. Further, they see salvation as a one way door, once you are a believer, no sin, rebellion or outright blasphemy can ever separate you from God.
This view is common to all Evangelicals and is one of the identifying characteristics of that movement. They however are not Pentecostal nor are Pentecostals Calvinist or part of the protestant reformation at all. Nor did we originate in the 18’th century. In fact, we do date back to the early church. We have always been relatively few in number compared to the ‘church’ at large, and our organs of ecclesiastical government have morphed and distorted at times becoming very odd indeed. However, the body of doctrines has come down unchanged from the earliest ministry of the Apostles, and the missions of Paul into the Turkish peninsula.
That claim is made by others, however let’s look at some of the seminal figures.
Bishop William J. Seymour
Bishop Seymour was a young and respected Methodist minister, when he attended a small Bible school in Topeka Kansas. The students at that School were engaged in the practice of tongues, healing, prophecy and other examples of God’s divine inspiration. Most notable was Agnes Ozman a young woman who went on the be the founding Matriarch of the Ohio State branch of the Church of God in Christ, a major Pentecostal denomination. American culture went into the formation of that institution, later renamed Assemblies of God, so that she, as all Heads of state wide branches of AoG are, was called superintendent rather than archbishop, or one of the other terms steeped in feudal tradition that plague other bodies. [The COGC was forcibly divided along racial lines as many southern states made it illegal for whites and blacks to attend services together. The Black branch of the church is larger in the United States and retains the name COGC]
Bishop Seymour however felt no difficulty in accepting the title and from his ministry more than one denomination was formed under his tutelage as patriarch and Apostle.
One might argue, well there is the proof that Pentecost is a late innovation, if it weren’t for the fact that the Methodist church had a Pentecostal origin itself.
Charles Wesley was an Anglican priest who founded the Methodist reformation of the Anglican Church in the 18’th century. The Anglican fellowship had undergone many periods of upheaval as the Calvinists and Catholics had variously tried to eliminate one another by fire and by force of arms. This violence was one of the reasons for the colonization of North America by English immigrants. Calvinists fled persecution by Catholics, Baptists fled persecution by Calvinists and finally Methodists fled persecution by Episcopalian reformers.
Wesley was a man with a mission, some might describe him as driven. With the help of his brother John, his children and a personal secretary, Wesley attempted to forge a reconciliation between Aminianism and the Anglican Canon Law. The result, while ostensibly Catholic, is certainly not compatible with the Protestant, Calvinist, or Roman expressions that have historically held sway in the Church of England.
The question is why this discussion of Wesleyan Methodism is anything more than a pedantic and admittedly very shallow historical analysis. Well one might ask. The answer is in the writings of Charles Wesley himself and in those of his close confidents. Wesley taught a faith that at first glance might seem Evangelical. He taught that one must be saved by grace, though faith in Jesus Christ, rather than church affiliation and baptism. However Wesley Espoused the Arminian model that said salvation is a free will act dependent on the cooperation and obedience of the penitent. He also taught in the Arminian tradition that a subsequent work of sanctification must be completed to truly succeed as a believer and to avoid failure and subsequent fall from grace.
Wesley also taught that subsequent to sanctification a ‘third moment’ or third definite work of grace is the fire baptism by the Holy Spirit. Wesley showed scripturally that in order to be empowered for service as a minister of the gospel and an authentic cleric of the church, one must have received this baptism by fire which is accompanied by, as Wesley put it, ‘groanings that cannot be uttered’.
Wesley was a careful man and unwilling to go far in his description or demonstration of said groanings, however he felt they were essential and not optional for every believer and prerequisite for clergy. What we find in the reports by his personal secretary however, show that these groanings are in fact what we in the 21’st century shorthand as tongues. Wesley was in fact a consummate Pentecostal and would have every one of his followers be one as well.
If Wesley was Arminian then who was Arminius?
Born Jacob Harmenszoon in Oudewater near Utrecht, Arminius was a Dutch reformer who sought to correct the wrong turn the reformation had taken under the influence of Calvin’s successors. Arminius restored the portions of scripture which the Calvinists had chosen to discard in order to support their nihilistic view of humanity and the role of an individual in his own salvation. Falsely accused of various heresies including neo-palagianism, he was acquitted at trial and went on to develop a Restorationist movement that till this day has had at it’s heart the reintegration of doctrine and scripture, previously discarded in order to support misguided or heretical dogma held by the other major branches of the church.
Arminius takes the Pentecostal movement back to the 16’th century and while neither he nor his contemporaries embraced the actual practice of ecstatic gifts, you see it in every branch of his followers, including the Quakers, Shakers, Anabaptists, Methodists, etc. The restoration of discarded scripture, by which I mean scripture intentionally ignored or misinterpreted in order to support dogma, lead to a new revival of the church and an exploration of those things which had been lost to the church at large prior to the renaissance.
Throughout the medieval period we see the church fathers embracing the authentic if somewhat mystical practice of ecstatic prophecy and miraculous gifts, followed unfortunately by the acquisition of the glory of those events not for our savior, but rather to bolster the reputation of the already bloated and corrupt Roman Church. This is what led to the renaissance reformation and subsequent Restorationist Movement which shaped the Dutch Reformed Church.
One might think the age of enlightenment and the renaissance at large was a time where ancient Greek Philosophies were allowed to corrupt secular society and were thus in some way ungodly. Some of the excesses of the period would almost support such a claim. The problem with that belief is that one must question, where did these terribly damaging Greek works — such as Aristotle, Euclid, Pythagoras, etc. ‘ come from.
The answer often spouted erroneously by the uninformed is ‘from the Muslims!’ Many of the inhabitants of the Christian kingdoms of Western China and Northern India fled into Europe to escape the advancing horde of Tartars and their Mongolian slaves. This brought believers, who often carried copies of rare works with them, into the west where they often integrated their own traditions with those of small parishes.
Islamic jihad against southern Europe did in fact bring copies of these works back to a Europe that had been plagued by book burnings and censorship by the Roman church throughout the so called dark ages. In point of fact, many medieval priests were so illiterate that they memorized their Psalters and Office and even bible ‘readings’ — if I dare use that word — because they could not read them and would have been legally prohibited from owning a bible in the first place. This made parishioners more open to influence by older more Biblical faith, that was brought into Europe by the Nestorian Believers, than they would have been if the parish priests had been Biblical scholars themselves.
It was the conundrum faced by the medieval church, educate the priest and he might revolt against unbiblical Dogma on his own. Leave him uneducated and he is vulnerable to persuasion.
So Christians are historically anti-education and there is no connection between the Aristotelian approach to Biblical hermeneutics of the reformation, and the traditional church. Such a conclusion would be quite erroneous.
The Eurasian Steps were home to Christian kingdoms where the sciences as well as the Baptism in the Holy Spirit were kept alive as evidenced by myths of the kingdom of Prestor John.
The Islamic nations of the medieval period and prior to that, were some of the best educated students of science possible at the time. Science, Art, and Literature flourished in ancient Middle-Eastern, Indo-European cultures. That is fact. What is generally overlooked is the coordinate fact that, the teachers and educators of the privileged Muslim governors and caliphs were Jewish civil servants and Christian educators.
These Christian Educators were so deeply integrated into early Islamic regimes that there are references to a monk of the sect common to ancient Iraq in Islamic religious works. The Ancient Christian sect found in these regions has been variously called the Nestorians or Assyrian Christians. This name, Nestorian, is derived from the ancient reformer whose teachings they espouse, Nestorius the Patriarch or Bishop of Constantinople.
Nestorius of Antioch
Nestorius was appointed Bishop of Constantinople by Theodosius the II emperor of Rome. Nestor a devout believer and adherent to biblical Christianity, immediately set about trying to correct some of the heresies concerning Mary that had crept into the church since the council of Chalcedon.
Namely, the Church at large had already, begun to erroneously refer to the Bishop of Rome as Pope and had begun to refer to Mary the mother of Jesus as the Holy Virgin and as the Mother of God. This proto cult of Mary had begun to form the seed of the present day heresies wherein Mary is deified as ‘co-redemptrix’ and Mother of God, or Queen of Heaven.
Nestor, in trying to stop this insurgency of pagan goddess worship, began to preach apologetically that while Jesus indeed has a unique nature both divine and human, none of his divinity derives in any way from Mary. Essentially he was presenting the Biblical teaching that Mary was blessed by being chosen to carry Jesus to term, but that the divinity of God is in no way parented and thus obligated or submitted to her in any way. Nestor in no way denies the Hypostatic Union, as such a doctrine was itself unformed and not yet Dogma, and there is no evidence that Nestor ever denied this teaching after it was codified.
Nestor was slandered by the cult of Mary who could not conceive that the divinity of God and the hypostatic union could surpass their limited imaginations and that a woman could give birth to that which she did not conceive. Further, he was waylaid by supporters of that cult and prevented from presenting his case to the Council of Ephesus. The Council of Ephesus correctly codified the Dogma regarding the hypostatic union but tainted it with the pagan doctrines of the cult of Mary, beginning a long and dark slide into apostasy and superstitious ignorance by the church hierarchy as a whole.
Perhaps the most telling evidence of Nestor’s innocence comes not from Nestor’s account of the events but from those of his detractors.
“I am astonished that the question should ever have been raised as to whether the Holy Virgin should be called Mother of God, for it really amounts to asking, is her Son God or is he not?” Cyril of Alexandria
Nothing could more poignantly underline the fallacy of the argument against Nestor than this quote. In today’s world we might well think that it is intentionally disingenuous. In all probability, the lack of a classical ‘liberal arts’ education left the Bishop unable to analyze his own dogma and therefore see the fact that he was assuming the conclusion before testing the hypothesis Biblically and defending each of the assumptions apologetically. But even natural science provides a basis for Nestor’s assertions.
The advent of modern fertility treatments, in vitro fertilization, and surrogate pregnancy, have proven that an infant with no biological relationship to the mother, whatever, can in fact be brought to term by a healthy virgin. I want to be clear, THIS IN NO WAY SUGGESTS THAT MARY WAS NOT THE BIOLOGICAL PARENT TO THE CHILD THAT WAS JESUS. What it does is show the scientific validity of believing that not every characteristic of the child must originate with the mother . Every natural human child is half the product of it’s father. The Mother only provides half the physical makeup of the child. The motility and life in sperm shows that only half the spirit of a child originates with it’s father. The union of two opposite lives, an egg and a sperm, create a new synthetic whole. The divinity of Christ’s nature, as Nestor intuited, was in no way derived from or dependent on Mary’s body or her spirit. Mary was a woman. Mary had other sons after Jesus, and they were the offspring of her husband Joseph. None of those were divine in nature or possessed of the hypostatic union.
In his opposition to the Romanization of the church and by subsequently excommunicating* the Roman and the Byzantine churches, Nestor was merely continuing a tradition held by one of his theological influences the apologetics of Tertullian.
* Naturally the Roman church had already pronounced excommunication of Nestor.
Tertullian was a former Roman Lawyer who converted to Christianity late in life. He was made Bishop of North Africa where he served as a vocal force in the synod of Bishops. As an experienced orator he was quite eloquent in his apologetical treatises, although he did on occasion indulge in the unforgivable act of polemic. Tertullian was indeed a Pentecostal in that he practiced and taught the practice of ecstatic ‘charismata’ as a natural outgrowth of the life in the spirit. He is erroneously accused of having converted to Montanism, however his own treatise against Montanus and the heretical practices and dogmas of the Montanists lays such specious accusations to rest.
Such accusations arise from his attempts to reform the Church at large, which had already begun to bend under the pressure of the pagan rulers of Rome. Already the Eucharist was being seen as a magical rite instead of a Seder celebration, recognizing Jesus as the sacrificial Passover lamb. Proto Mariology was in its infancy and the adoption of blasphemous prayer to persons other than God, and the adoption of reliquaries and icons was polluting the church. Because Tertullian was so vocal in his attempts at reform, he was ostracized by the church at large and his own movement developed for a time, before being absorbed by the Roman church at large precipitating the rise of Nestor.
By the reign of Pope Gregory, the upheaval in the Roman Empire and the fall of the dark ages had completely distorted the calendar, and to this day we cannot be certain how many years it has been since the ‘first’ century, or how long it was between the first century and the rise of Tertullian. For this reason among others it is reasonable to believe that the Tertullian mentioned in the epistles is the same Tertullian who later wrote the aforementioned apologetics. This is the position we take until hard archeological evidence, or the return of Christ proves otherwise.
Whether he is in fact the Tertullian of the epistles or another, his Doctrine certainly agrees, in spirit and in letter, with the doctrines of the epistles and of Saul of Tarsi the Apostle Paul.
Paul the Apostle
The Petrine epistles tell us that ‘Brother Paul’ is an authentic emissary of the Church in Jerusalem and that his doctrine is sound. Second Peter says that if anyone doubts that, they have misunderstood the teachings of the church or the Pauline epistles (and I would like to add: or both). Paul wrote, ‘I praise God I speak in tongues more than you all.’ So while he gives many cautions against irresponsible usage of ecstatic gifts, he clearly is not trying to argue they are obsolete.
Paul draws us a very clear picture of grace, of humanity, of Deity, and the proper role of women. There is no doubt after reading Paul that he, and by extension the early church would reject the cult of Mary as heretical and anathema. There is also no doubt he would have rejected as heretical any person or body that prayed to anyone other than to God in the name of Christ. There is no doubt he would reject the notion that the ‘keys of the kingdom’ grant any person or body the authority to prophesy ‘ex cathedra’ and in doing so contradict the clear teachings of the New Testament.
In the letter to the Galatians Paul writes, ‘If anyone, even an angel from heaven or one of [the apostles] teaches any thing contradictory to what has come before, let him be accursed!’ There is no doubt. They were excommunicated a priori.
When you consider the grace and majesty of God’s provision for this later generation it is mind-boggling. That he could use seemingly terrible events such as the schism in the church and the subsequent infidelity of Arabic believers who were swallowed into the infidelity of Islam; even the Islamic Jihad against Europe, and the Mongol invasion, worked to provide the basis for the continual rebirth of authentic Christian faith, in spite of the continued assault by pagans, the heretics and the spirit of Antichrist. The loss of scrolls at Qumran becomes a time capsule for the verification of the validity of the scriptures. The discovery of discarded tax receipts verify the existence of ancient kingdoms that only Bible believers previously recognized. In his mercy, God has protected knowledge so the faithful would have the tools needed when needed. His sovereign hand is in every current of History. He will establish his church where he wills until the end of times. Praise his glorious name.