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A Theological Pilgrimage: Chapter 3

By Dr. J. Rodman Williams

Chapters: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | Conclusion
Preface | Abbreviations | Bibliography

Chapter Three


Some Presbyterian/Reformed Comment

Among the extraordinary religious phenomena of the twentieth century is the upsurge of Pentecostalism. I should like to note in this chapter some reflections by Presbyterian and Reformed church leaders and theologians upon the significance of the Pentecostal phenomenon.

Among the first of the church leaders in the Presbyterian and Reformed tradition to write about the world-wide Pentecostal movement was Leslie Newbigin. Newbigin- -former missionary of the Church of Scotland, Bishop of the Church of South India, and thereafter Director of the Division of World Mission and Evangelism of the World Council of Churches- -in his book, The Household of God (first published in 1953), called for a clear recognition of the importance of "the Pentecostal stream" (p. 120).1 In addition to historic Protestantism with its primary emphasis upon the given message and Catholicism with its stress upon structure, there exists, says Newbigin, "a third stream of Christian tradition," which, while mingling with the other two, has its own distinct character. This stream is characterized by the central conviction that "the Christian life is a matter of the experienced power and presence of the Holy Spirit today" (p. 95). Their answer to the question, "Where is the Church?", is neither in terms of a given message (where the pure word is preached and rightly understood) nor a given structure (where the continuation of the apostolate is claimed) but where "the Holy Spirit [is] recognizably present with power" (p. 95).

It is interesting to note that Newbigin goes ahead positively to say "...what I have called the Pentecostal Christian has the New Testament on his side when he demands first of all of any body of so-called Christians, 'Do you have the Holy Spirit?' For without that all your credal orthodoxy and all your historic succession avails you nothing" (p. 101). This being the case, the Church (in its Protestant/Catholic forms) should, says Newbigin, extend to the Pentecostals the widest possible welcome, even if their presence may be "revolutionary" and "subversive." "Here we must frankly face the fact that there is in this teaching a revolutionary element which could be dangerously subversive to our existing ways of thought" (p. 106). But, adds Newbigin, we must be prepared to run the risk today, despite our fear of uncharted country and fanaticism, and think much more seriously about what it means to say that the church is also "the fellowship of the Holy Spirit."

Newbigin's plea is also directed to the Pentecostals, urging them to recognize that there is much to be learned and received from the traditional churches. There is need for more stress on confession, on order and continuity- -the long perspective of the church's history- -and a willingness, through acknowledging the Body of Christ elsewhere, to leave their isolation and enter into ecumenical conversation.2 In a particularly striking word of address Newbigin says: "In your emphasis upon the primacy of the Spirit, and upon the fact that the Church is intended to be a Spirit-filled fellowship in which the Spirit's gifts are known and enjoyed and used for the edification of the Church you are right. But you are wrong in severing the Spirit from the Body" (p. 120). Newbigin's main thrust however is directed to the traditional Protestant and Roman Catholic, and, speaking for both in humble and moving fashion, he adds: "We must remember that we without them [the Pentecostals] cannot be made perfect" (p. 121).

Finally, in an important paragraph, Newbigin suggests that the way ahead in the Protestant/Catholic dialogue "may be found in a new understanding of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit." Then comes a decisive, possibly prophetic question:

May it not be that the great Churches of the Catholic and Protestant traditions will have to be humble enough to receive it in fellowship with their brethren in the various groups of the Pentecostal type with whom at present they have scarcely any fellowship at all? (p. 122).

There can be little doubt, from what is contained in The Household of God, of Newbigin's generally positive assessment of Pentecostal Christianity and its important contribution to the rest of Christendom. This is the case even though there may be implications of something revolutionary involved in the upsurge of Pentecostalism.

Another church leader-seminary president, author, theologian- -who early sounded a call for the recognition of a "third force" was Henry P. Van Dusen. In an article in Christian Century (August 17, 1955), Van Dusen first spoke about a "third mighty arm of Christian outreach" and forecast that future historians in looking back at the twentieth century will say that, next to the ecumenical movement, "by all odds the most important fact in the Christian history of our times was a New Reformation, the emergence of a new, third major type and branch of Christendom, alongside of and not incommensurable with Roman Catholicism and historic Protestantism."3 Then three years later, following a trip around the world in which Van Dusen interviewed a large number of church leaders, many of whom expressed concern over the phenomenal growth of nontraditional churches, he wrote an article which appeared in Life magazine (June 6, 1958) entitled "The Third Force in Christendom." This "third force, says Van Dusen, includes a broad spectrum of churches such as Nazarenes, Jehovah's Witnesses, and Seventh-Day Adventists; but, he adds, "Of the third force's world membership of twenty million, the largest single group is 8.5 million Pentecostals."4 This "third force," Van Dusen further says, is "the most extra-ordinary religious phenomenon of our time." Then the primary matter: "They place strong emphasis upon the Holy Spirit- -so neglected by many traditional Christians- -as the immediate, potent presence of God in each human soul and the Christian fellowship." One other paragraph is particularly significant:

Until lately, other Protestants regarded the movement as a temporary and passing phenomenon, not worth much mention. Now there is a serious growing recognition of its true dimension and probable permanence. The tendency to dismiss its Christian message is being replaced by a chastened readiness to investigate the secrets of its mighty sweep, especially to learn if it may not have important, neglected elements in a full and true Christian witness.5

Reference might also be made to Van Dusen's book, Spirit, Son and Father (published in 1958) which, without making any significant mention of Pentecostalism as such, is a call for a more adequate theology and experience of the Holy Spirit. For example, Van Dusen writes, "In current Christian thought there is wanting an adequate and convincing apprehension and appropriation of the Holy Spirit"(p. 12), and later he adds, "A Church devoid of a vital and vibrant possession by the Holy Spirit is a Church congealed in ancient forms, or well on the way to spiritual sterility." By implication what is lacking in many churches is "the immediate, potent presence of God" which (according to the Life article of the same year) belongs to the "third force" of Christendom.

One additional statement in another context, referring specifically to Pentecostalism, is perhaps the most striking of all. In the early 1960s Van Dusen is quoted as saying: "I have come to feel that the Pentecostal movement with its emphasis on the Holy Spirit is more than just another revival.... It is a revolution comparable in importance with the establishment of the original church and with the Protestant Reformation."6 Thus Van Dusen, while joining Newbigin in speaking of the revolutionary implications of Pentecostalism, actually goes farther in viewing it as no less significant than the emergence of early Christianity and the Reformation of the 16th century.

A third eminent churchman-missionary, seminary president, ecumenical leader- -John A. Mackay, has likewise frequently summoned the church to view the Pentecostal phenomenon positively and openly. As a missionary for many years in South America Mackay became intimately acquainted with both Roman Catholicism and Pentecostalism, and through the years maintained a particular interest in the latter. For example, as chairman of the International Missionary Council meeting in Ghana in 1957, Mackay observed in his keynote address that there are "some notable cases in which the Church is literally the mission. This is true...of the Pentecostal Churches."7 Another example: as president of the World Presbyterian Alliance that met in Sao Paulo in 1959, Mackay welcomed David du Plessis, world Pentecostal leader, as a fraternal delegate and remarked: "Whatever history may say about my friend, this fact will surely be recorded. This is the first confessional body that has extended recognition to the Pentecostal movement."8 Du Plessis was also invited by Mackay that same year to be missionary lecturer at Princeton Theological Seminary.

Along with this quite positive interest in classical Pentecostalism Mackay has had a similar attitude regarding the rise of neo-Pentecostalism. In his Ecumenics: the Science of the Church Universal (published in 1964) Mackay writes forcefully about both forms of Pentecostalism:

Pentecostalism represents the rediscovery of the Holy Spirit as a reality in the life of the Church and in the lives of Christians. Despite all the aberrations that may be attached to it in certain places, neo-Pentecostalism is a rebirth of primitive, First-Century Christianity. Protestants who glory in belonging to Classical or Radical Christianity will look down their noses at Pentecostal Christianity only at their peril. For this is a phenomenon of God's springtime (p. 198).

What is striking about Mackay's statement is not only his view that the Pentecostal phenomenon is an important factor (such as "third stream" or "third force") which the rest of Christendom needs to recognize, but also that Pentecostalism "represents the rediscovery of the Holy Spirit" in Christian life and experience and "a rebirth of primitive...Christianity." This being the case, as Mackay sees it, not only is it possible to say (with Newbigin) that "we without them cannot be made perfect" but also that with them- -or in sharing their experience- -the Holy Spirit's dynamism may be rediscovered in our day.

It is further significant to note that thereafter- -in the light of post-Vatican II developments and increasing Pentecostal and neo-Pentecostal rise- -Mackay sounded a challenge and warning to Protestantism. He writes in Christian Reality and Appearance (published in 1969):

In a time of revolutionary change- -when all institutional structures are crumbling in the secular and religious order, when the churches of historical Protestantism are becoming increasingly bureaucratized, when more and more church members are meeting in an unecclesiastical underworld, when the Roman Catholic Church is developing evangelical concern and a deepening sense of what it means to be Christian, when the charismatic movement is growing across all boundaries- -might it not happen that unless our Protestant churches rediscover dimensions in thought and life they are losing or disdaining, the Christianfuture may lie with a reformed Catholicism and a matured Pentecostalism? (pp. 88-89).

That Mackay's deepest concern is with the latter- -"a matured Pentecostalism"- -seems to come through in words that immediately follow: "Meantime, let members of the body of Christ listen to their divine Head. Let them be filled with the Spirit."9

Finally, in an article, "Oneness in the Body: Focus for the Future," written in 1970,10 Mackay includes a very high appraisal of the charismatic movement among both Protestants and Roman Catholics:

What is known as the charismatic movement- -a movement marked by spiritual enthusiasm and special gifts, and which crosses all boundaries of culture, race, age, and church tradition- -is profoundly significant. A product of the Holy Spirit, and marked by a passionate love of Jesus Christ and the dedication of time and talent to his service among people everywhere, the charismatic movement is today the most dynamic and creative happening in the world of religion. It is the spiritual phenomenon which alone can match the dedicated enthusiasm of youthful nationalists, racists, marxists and guerrillas. Because "no heart is pure that is not passionate and no virtue is safe that is not enthusiastic," the charismatic movement of today is the chief hope of the ecumenical tomorrow.

It would be hard to imagine a stronger endorsement of the neo­Pentecostal, or charismatic, movement as the wave of the future.

It is apparent that in the viewpoint of these eminent churchmen- -Newbigin, Van Dusen, and Mackay- -the Pentecostal phenomenon has much positive significance. Their attitude doubtless contrasts sharply with many in traditional churches who look upon Pentecostalism in any form (whether classical or otherwise) as quite unacceptable. It often conjures up pictures of excessive emotion, bizarre behavior, irrational attitudes, and the like. "There still prevails the assumption," writes Father Kilian McDonnell, leading Roman Catholic interpreter of Pentecostalism, "that Pentecostalism is somehow psychologically disreputable, socially unwashed, and theologically barren."11 All this does not seem to bother the churchmen cited; for they appear to be saying that whatever Pentecostalism's inadequacies, perhaps its exaggerations, even uncouthness,12 it is a quite important force for vital Christianity today. Radical, revolutionary- -and thus possibly both threatening and challenging- -such is Pentecostalism: unmistakably essential to the present and future of Christendom.

Let us now turn to a consideration of the viewpoint of several Reformed theologians about the Pentecostal phenomenon.

Reference may first be made to Arnold C. Come and his attitude expressed in Human Spirit and Holy Spirit (published in 1959). At one place in his book Come speaks of our witnessing today "a new era of revivalism, mysticism, and the formation of pietistic groups at the fringe or outside the traditional churches, and of a phenomenal surge in the growth of the so­called 'holiness' or 'pentecostal' churches" (p.137). In the context of that statement Come faults these churches for being exclusive: "They all claim to be in possession of true Christianity as over against the institutionalized churches." However- -and this is important in our consideration- -Come, farther on, calls for "a serious re-study and re-evaluation." In, what I believe to be, a very significant statement Come writes:

The historical crisis confronting Christianity, the ecclesiastical dilemma of a fractured church, the need of deeper spiritual resources, all are demanding a serious restudy and re-evaluation of the whole anabaptist, pietist, gnostic, and pentecostal traditions (p. 175).

Though Come lumps a good many things together, there is little doubt of his view of the importance of fresh examination of Pentecostalism along with other elements in this tradition. What may be most noteworthy here is Come's recognition of the serious need arising out of historical crisis, a broken church, and depleted spiritual resources. And though Come does not proceed to make the called for study himself, he does acclaim its urgency.

Next we may note George S. Hendry and his book, The Holy Spirit in Christian Theology (1953, revised 1965). Though Hendry nowhere mentions Pentecostalism directly, it is interesting to observe that he regards the Left Wing (or "Spirituals") as having its own positive contribution to make. In the second preface he says clearly that "if the three great divisions of western Christendom will recognize that they have been divisive in their respective testimonies to the work of the Holy Spirit," we can move to a fuller unity. Then, in one of the new chapters, "The Holy Spirit as the Giver of Life and Unity," Hendry develops the theme of the Holy Spirit as "the source of solidarity, authority, and vitality," each in turn being represented by Roman Catholicism (solidarity of the Church), classical Protestantism (authority of the Word) and the Spirituals Wing (vitality in Christian life). The tendency, says Hendry, is for each of these traditions to subordinate the other two aspects, but all are needed for the wholeness of the Church. Then Hendry significantly adds:

Neither the solidarity of the Spirit in the Church nor the authority of the Spirit in the Word is of any avail unless it is accompanied by the vitality of the Spirit in the lives of Christian people (p. 122).

It is important to observe that though Hendry does not speak with as much emphasis as Newbigin, Van Dusen, and Mackay about the third "stream" or "force"- -nor does he discuss Pentecostalism as such- -there is a recognition of the importance of those representing the "vitality of the Spirit." Thus does Hendry join the others in urging the importance of this third motif in contemporary Christendom.

What seems to be coming through from churchman and theologian alike is that there is serious need today of what the third "stream" (however worded) represents. Whether put in terms of "the experienced power and presence of the Holy Spirit" (Newbigin), "the immediate, potent presence of God in each Christian soul and in the Christian fellowship" (Van Dusen), or "the rediscovery of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Church and in the lives of Christians" (Mackay), the churchmen have little question that the Pentecostal reality is utterly essential for Christendom. Likewise Come in the expression of need for "deeper spiritual resources" and Hendry for "the vitality of the Spirit," while not singling out Pentecostalism, seem to be moving in the same direction. However, there is some difference- -and surely not unimportant- -namely that the churchmen lay larger stress on the revolutionary character of what Pentecostalism represents. Indeed- -and this must be explored further- -it is almost as if they are saying that Pentecostalism is more than simply a third factor to be added to two others (traditional Protestantism and Catholicism). Rather it points in some sense to a missing or forgotten dimension of the Holy Spirit's presence and power. Thus there is something radical, even "subversive" (Newbigin) about the Pentecostal witness, for it unavoidably subjects the rest of Christendom to a probing scrutiny.

This essay is hardly the place to attempt an extended theological study of the understanding of Pentecostalism. It is evident, however, that at the heart of Pentecostal thought is the mystery of Pentecost- -the tremendum of the Holy Spirit's coming, which is viewed as present experience and the source of vitality and witness. Further, it is a result of this experience, so Pentecostalism claims, that the various charismata (especially of 1 Corinthians 12-14) are being manifested once more. Thus do the Pentecostals press upon the Church at large the question concerning participation in the vitalizing and empowering reality of the Holy Spirit. Has much of Christendom failed to appropriate the full significance of Pentecost?

Let us move on to two other Reformed theologians who have sought to grapple with the meaning of Pentecost and Pentecostalism. We may first note Karl Barth, particularly the section in his Church Dogmatics IV/3 entitled "The Promise of the Spirit." Though Barth does not deal directly with Pentecostalism, what he has to say about "the promise of the Spirit" may aid in further reflection. Since, particularly, Barth herein defines the promise of the Spirit as "His [Jesus Christ's] direct and immediate presence and action among and with and in us" (p. 350), this would seem to point directly to the vital area of the Pentecostal witness.

Barth holds that the "coming again" of Jesus Christ has a threefold form, yet it is essentially one. We must "plainly distinguish the resurrection, the outpouring of the Spirit and the final return of Jesus Christ" (p. 295), while recognizing in them the one coming of Jesus Christ. The Easter event, as the first form of this coming again, is the gift of new life- -"the gift of this life, given in virtue of His radiating light, is thus in the form of its commencement the gift of Easter day" (p. 305). By virtue of Christ's coming in the Resurrection the early disciples "found themselves addressed and claimed as justified and sanctified in the revelation of the work accomplished in the life and death of Jesus. They were taken up into the victory of life over death....Their liberation for eternal life and therefore for service in this life had taken place" (p. 303). So it is with us: eternal life is given through the Resurrected Lord; thus there is "no greater, higher, or better gift" (p. 306). And yet there are other forms.

Thus we come to the "second form," the outpouring of the Spirit. This coming, says Barth, happens to two kinds of people, "Christians who know Jesus Christ and non-Christians who do not" (p. 351). Barth speaks first of Christians to whom the Spirit comes: "It is presupposed that the Spirit, the Holy Spirit, i.e. Jesus Christ acting and speaking in the power of his resurrection, is present and active among certain men," namely, Christians. These persons, through the present operation of the Spirit, "exist as recipients, bearers and possessors of the promise of the Spirit, in fellowship with its Giver, the Spirit Himself, touched and indeed filled by His power, and therefore by the power of the risen Jesus Christ..." (p. 352). These recipients of the Spirit are Christians who know themselves as reconciled, justified, and sanctified in Him, and whom Jesus sets upon the way into the world, at the same time "bestowing upon them in the twofold form and strength of His promise the gifts and lights and powers which they need for this purpose" (p. 353). These believers to whom the Spirit comes, even in the weakness of their flesh, are "spiritual men" (p. 353).

There are other persons, non-Christians, who lack the Holy Spirit. Christ is "not yet present and active in them in the subjective realization corresponding to His objective reality. The Holy Spirit Himself and as such is here a reality which is still lacking and is still to be expected" (p. 353). These are "unspiritual men," for "in them the Holy Spirit comes up against closed doors and windows, not reaching or dwelling in those who do not know Jesus" (p. 354). They are "not yet caught up in the living stream of life, not yet moved by the promise of the Spirit, not yet living by the lights and powers bestowed with this promise, but still without on the rocky banks of the stream" (p. 355).

So, Barth adds, we live in the time of the Holy Spirit, but differently as Christians and non-Christians, for the Spirit is a gift to one and a promise to the other: " is the time of the Holy Spirit given to Christians with His sure and powerful pledges, and promised to non-Christians with His equally sure and powerful pledges" (p. 359). If however, we do not live joyfully, and in glad expectation of his final coming- -Barth proceeds to ask- -"Have we really received the Spirit and His pledge...?" (p. 360).

I have quoted from Barth in some detail because I believe his words have relevance for the Pentecostal situation of today. For their witness about the presence of the Holy Spirit is also twofold: concerning both Christians and non-Christians. Pentecostals are insistent that the message of Pentecost is primarily addressed to Christians (those in whom the Holy Spirit is already present) to alert them to the bestowal of the Spirit and His gifts and powers; and, not unlike Barth, their probing question is also, "Have we really received the Spirit?" This is the heart of the Pentecostal concern. It is addressed not to unbelievers but to believers, and they would urge that it speaks to the Church of today at the point of most critical need. Pentecostals also stress that whatever Christ has done objectively in His death and resurrection must be followed by subjective realization- -and this comes only through the Holy Spirit breaking open closed doors. So the other aspect of the Pentecostal witness to the Church at large focuses on the need for a vital experience wherein the unbeliever enters upon "the living stream of life."

But let me return to the former point above. In so doing I feel constrained to express my judgment that this may well be the "blind spot" in the Church that the Pentecostals have peculiarly turned the light upon. If it is true that many in our midst, indeed Christian people, are sensing a kind of powerlessness and emptiness of spiritual vitality- -and little of God's "gifts and lights and powers"- -it could be that the word particularly needed is that concerning the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. It remains true that the imperative need of non-Christians is that the Holy Spirit make effectual the objective act of God in Jesus Christ, thus their justification and sanctification. But if this has taken place, as for all Christians, there may yet be on our part the failure to hear and receive the word of Pentecost, addressed first to believers, whereby we begin to live and move in the presence and power of the Spirit. For the Holy Spirit is not only active in reconciliation, but He is also (and even primarily according to the Pentecostal motif) active in enabling for witness. The Holy Spirit is indeed promised and given to Christians, and we are called to live by His lights and powers. But- -and this is the crucial matter- -this objective endowment may not yet be operative; we may not yet have received what has been given. How much do we know about being "touched and indeed filled by His power" (to use Barth's language) if our very joylessness and impotence signifies something out of kilter? In this situation it may well be that "the rediscovery of the Holy Spirit" (Mackay) in our day, as especially attested by the Pentecostals, will turn out to be the opening up afresh of this dynamic dimension of the Holy Spirit's presence and power.

This brings us finally to the theologian, Hendrikus Berkhof, and particularly his book, The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit (published in 1964). Herein Berkhof makes the first attempt in Reformed theology- -so far as I know- -to focus directly upon the Pentecostal witness13 and to affirm its viewpoint as important for the whole church.

Early in his book Berkhof stresses that in the Western, mainline tradition of theology (as represented by both Roman Catholicism and Protestantism) there is a serious neglect in the area of the Holy Spirit. The prevailing pneumatological trend has been that of seeing the work of the Holy Spirit as only the "subjective reverse" of Christ's work. Accordingly, the Holy Spirit's chief role has been viewed as that of awakening faith in Christ; thus the Spirit's work is understood as purely instrumental and subordinate. To this prevailing trend Berkhof registers objection:

The Spirit is far more than an instrumental entity, the subjective reverse of Christ's work. His coming to us is a great new event in the series of God's saving acts. He creates a world of his own, a world of conversion, experience, sanctification; of tongues, prophecy, and miracles; of upbuilding and guiding the Church... (p. 23).

Now this, Berkhof adds, is what has been in the minds of all who "in every century of church history, protested against the lack of spiritual reality in the official church life...from the Montanists of the second century...[to] the Pentecostals of the twentieth" (p. 23).

While not dealing with Pentecostalism only in the statements above, Berkhof is clearly seeking to cope with what he views to be a critical defect in the theology of Western Christendom. As long as the Holy Spirit is not understood as, in some sense, independent of Christ, Berkhof is urging, even a concentration on Christ, His work, faith, and the like, may result in a diminution of spiritual vitality.

We may now note specifically what Berkhof has to say about the Pentecostal position. In a chapter (4) on "The Spirit and the Individual" Berkhof speaks of how Revivalist and Pentecostal movements stress a working of the Holy Spirit beyond justification and sanctification, "now widely known as the 'filling by the Holy Spirit' or 'the baptism by the Holy Spirit'" (p. 85). This position, says Berkhof, so important in Pentecostalism, has scarcely been heeded by official theology,14 and not recognized in the traditional churches of Christendom.

It is quite interesting, and doubtless significant, that Berkhof, a Reformed theologian, proceeds to express his general agreement with the Pentecostal position just described. First, he recognizes in Luke-Acts a special "filling" by the Holy Spirit through which "the faithful are empowered to speak in tongues, to prophesy, to praise give a powerful expression of God's mighty deeds to those around them" (p. 86). Second, he sees in Paul's discourse about the charismata (1 Cor. 12-14) a pointing to the same or similar things; for though Paul does not use the language of "filling" he does speak of such manifestations of the Spirit as word of wisdom, healing, miracles, prophecy, tongues. Thus Berkhof concludes:

For him [Paul] also the work of the Spirit is not exhausted in justification and sanctification; an additional working is promised and must therefore be sought. All this leads us to the conclusion that the Pentecostals are basically right when they speak of a working of the Holy Spirit beyond that which is acknowledged in the major denominations (p. 87).

This obviously is a quite far-reaching statement. It clearly grows out of Berkhof's earlier expressed dissatisfaction with traditional pneumatology that, in his view, subordinates the Holy Spirit to Christ and fails to recognize that the Spirit "creates a world of his own." Berkhof is particularly stressing that this "world" includes the "filling" or empowering work of the Holy Spirit. Further, it is to be noted that Berkhof stresses not only that this "additional working" of the Spirit is promised but also that it "must therefore be sought." Hence the Holy Spirit's presence and power is not to be presupposed, but may await a fresh concern on the part of the church throughout Christendom.15 To be alert to such a possibility could signalize a revolutionary new breakthrough in the world of the Spirit.

The "filling" by the Holy Spirit- -which lies at the heart of Pentecostal witness- -Berkhof tries variously to describe. It means that a person is thereby equipped to become "an instrument for the ongoing process of the Spirit in the church and in the world" (p. 83). Again, "the filling by the Spirit means that the justified and sanctified are now turned, so to speak, inside out" (p. 89). Through this "filling" the community becomes "charismatic," being supplied with multiple graces and gifts, and thereby is enabled to give bold and compelling witness to the good news of Jesus Christ.

But, whatever the description, the decisive matter in all of this is Berkhof's view that the Pentecostals are conversant with a working of the Spirit unacknowledged by traditional churches. In much of this Berkhof does not differ greatly from Barth, for example, that there is a work of the Spirit beyond justification and sanctification,16 that Pentecost represents in some sense a happening for Christians, and that this event makes possible various gifts and graces. Further, the fact that Barth raises the crucial question, "Have we really received the Spirit?," is in and of itself quite probing and points in the direction of something that Christians may need to face with utter candor. Berkhof however goes beyond Barth in the radicalism of his statement that this working of the Spirit is unacknowledged by Western Christendom in general, and that Pentecostalism (and some forms of Revivalism) is the herald of this long neglected reality.

All of this points, according to Berkhof, in the direction of the church at large needing to rediscover a dimension of the Holy Spirit's working that has been long overlooked. This seems to be essentially what the Pentecostal movement also is saying in our day. It bears witness to the reality of such a rediscovery, and calls upon the churches of Christendom to awaken to the possibility of this happening to all.17

This brings us full circle to some of the things we first noted in Newbigin's writing. There is, as Newbigin puts it, something quite revolutionary in the Pentecostal witness, "dangerously subversive to our existing ways of thought." But could it be that this "subversion"- -if we are willing to undergo it- -would be not for the crippling of Christendom but for its renewal? Is Newbigin by any chance right in saying that "without them [the long neglected and frequently despised people of 'the Pentecostal stream'] we cannot be made perfect"? Dare we face the possibility that Pentecostalism (whatever its aberrations) represents a first-hand experience of presence and power only vaguely surmised18 in the church at large? Newbigin, it will be recalled, urges the importance of new understanding of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, but also suggests that this is far more than an intellectual enterprise. Indeed, we may have to be "humble enough to receive it in fellowship" with "various groups of the Pentecostal type." Are we really prepared to humble ourselves that much?

It is obvious that I stand in hearty agreement with many of our Reformed and Presbyterian spokesmen that the upsurge of Pentecostalism represents a vital renewal of Christianity at its original sources. I do not think it an exaggeration to say that it is "a phenomenon of God's springtime," and that we must be willing to "investigate the secrets of its mighty sweep." If it is the case that there is something going on here comparable in importance to the advent of Apostolic Christianity and the Protestant Reformation19- -and I am coming increasingly to suspect that there is- -then we are called upon to delay no longer in giving ourselves without stint to fuller experiential and theological understanding.20


1Newbigin does not write about Pentecostalism as a denomination but as a "stream" involving many people. Hence references to "Pentecostals" or "Pentecostal Christians" hereafter should be understood as representing a broad stream to the "left" of much of Christendom.

2In the years that soon followed the publication of Newbigin's The Household of God, it is noteworthy that some of the Pentecostal churches left their ecumenical isolation. At the Third Assembly of the World Council of Churches (New Delhi, 1961), two South American (Chilean) Pentecostal churches were accepted into membership, and at the Fourth Assembly (Uppsala, 1968) there were fifteen Pentecostal participants in various capacities.

3"Caribbean Holiday," pp. 946-48.

4Article cited, p. 124.


6See John L. Sherrill's book, They Speak with Other Tongues, 27.

7The Ghana Assembly of the International Missionary Council, "The Christian Mission at This Hour," 115. Mackay speaks of this also being true of the Mormon Church. However, that his concern is particularly with Pentecostalism may be noted in the sentence that immediately follows: "In many parts of the world today every member of the several churches that make up the Pentecostal World Fellowship are not only committed Christians, but ardent missionaries."

8See The Spirit Bade Me Go by David J. du Plessis, 19.

9Under the heading, "Be Filled with the Spirit," Mackay, in an earlier book entitled God's Order discussed the Pentecostal movement in South America (see 176ff.).

10World Vision, April, 1970.

11See "The Ideology of Pentecostal Conversion" in the Journal of Ecumenical Studies, Winter, 1968, 126. I might add that McDonnell, on the basis of extended research in the field, views this attitude as essentially unwarranted.

12One further-and delightful-quotation from Mackay: "uncouth life is better than aesthetic death"! (Ecumenics, 198).

13Barth, as mentioned, makes no reference to Pentecostalism as such. My point here is that Berkhof, whose ideas seem to parallel many of Barth's above, writes consciously with the Pentecostal witness in mind. (For a previous reference to Berkhof see chap. 1, n.28.)

14Berkhof laments what he calls "a watertight partition­wall between these [Pentecostal and Revivalist] groups and the theology in seminaries and universities." He adds: "I believe that this partition is to the detriment of both parties, and I will make an attempt to break through the wall" (85).

15Barth has written elsewhere that "a presupposed spirit is certainly not the Holy Spirit," that "a foolish church presupposes his presence and action in its own existence," and that "only where the Spirit is sighed, cried, and prayed for does he become present and active" (Evangelical Theology: An Introduction, 58). Barth's words likewise probe the vitals of the Church's existence.

16Berkhof mentions that the "one important exception" to official theology's neglect of a third work of the Holy Spirit is Barth. After having dealt with justification in Church Dogmatics IV/1 and sanctification in IV/2, Barth comes to "calling" in IV/3 (from which volume we quoted above) whereby "the justified and sanctified Christian is now called to participate in the work of Christ, that is: to be a witness." Thus, Berkhof adds, "Barth is aware of a third dimension in pneumatology" (see Berkhof, 90).

17I should like to add one further quotation from Berkhof that, while having nothing directly to do with Pentecostalism, speaks powerfully about the need for "a new experience of the Holy Spirit." In a later article entitled "A New Age-A New Theology?", written in the aftermath of the "death of God" theology, Berkhof has this to say: "The only adequate response to the experience of the death of God is a new experience of the Holy Spirit, an authentic revival and renewal. A new theology as such has no power to renew. It must itself be born of renewal, in order to lead modern man out of thinking to the steep cliff of God's free power and to wait in need of renewal for the promise of the Holy Spirit. Only where this promise is fulfilled will 'signs of the Spirit and of power' become visible in our world of alienation from God. Only this sign-and not our most sophisticated apologetic-can lead modern man to the joyful confession that God is truly in our midst" (Reformed World, Dec. 1967, 361-2).

18Emil Brunner, in his book The Misunderstanding of the Church writes about the Holy Spirit in the primitive ecclesia as "a reality whose dynamic power we can now entertain scarcely a vague surmise" (51). Thus does Brunner question Christendom as a whole. What I am suggesting is that this "dynamic power" may well be reappearing in the Pentecostal witness of today.

19Though I am referring to Van Dusen's statement (see preface), it may be worth noting that Frederick Denison Maurice had already said, in the nineteenth century, "I cannot but think that the reformation in our day, which I expect to be more deep and searching than that of the sixteenth century, will turn upon the Spirit's presence and life as that did upon Justification by the Son" (quoted in the preface to The Spirit, ed. by B. H. Streeter).

20A final word: I have not intended to suggest in this article that the only hope for our future rests in simply adopting everything in Pentecostal theology and practice. Such of course would be quite unwise and surely impossible. Indeed even if it were possible, those in the Reformed tradition (and Christendom in general) would only come off the losers, since there is doubtless much in Pentecostalism that is unessential, perhaps even misleading. Moreover, I would insist that we are called upon to give as well as to receive, and that it is in the manifold witness of the great traditions of Eastern Orthodoxy, Western Catholicism, and Protestantism-and possibly others-that richness of truth is to be found. Nonetheless, as the paper no doubt has shown, I am convinced that what Pentecostalism represents-which is far more than a particular tradition of the twentieth century-remains utterly essential for all our churches: the renewed experience of the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.

Chapters: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | Conclusion
Preface | Abbreviations | Bibliography


Content Copyright 2003 by J. Rodman Williams, Ph.D.

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