Category Archives: New postings

Pentecostals & Roman Catholics: our convergences outweigh our differences

“Without a doubt, Pentecostals and Roman Catholics comprise a majority of the world’s Christians. . . . Why are these two groups gaining members at such a dramatic rate when other denominations are declining . . . The answer may lie in their shared openness to the Holy Spirit, to the charisms, and to their value of an embodied, experiential and supra-rational faith.”
Karen R.J. Murphy, Pentecostals and Roman Catholics on Becoming a Christian: Spirit Baptism, Faith, Conversion, Experience, and Discipleship in Ecumenical Perspective, Global Pentecostal and Charismatic Studies, vol. 28 (The Netherlands, Leiden: Brill, 2018), p2.

In this monograph, Karen Murphy examines how Roman Catholics and Pentecostals are discovering through formal ecumenical dialogue, key similarities between themselves within the themes of “Spirit-baptism, faith, conversion, experience, and discipleship.” More specifically, her work provides a timely and important analysis on how the fifth phase of the International Roman Catholic-Pentecostal Dialogue (1998-2006) (IRCPD) explored these topics within the broad theme of, “On Becoming a Christian.”
The fifth round report can be viewed at the Cyberjournal for Pentecostal-Charismatic Research: http://www.pctii.org/cyberj/cyber18.html

As Murphy notes, two methodologies significantly facilitated the fifth dialogue. First, they consistently asked one another the “hard questions” about how their respective traditions understand the selected topics, and responded, in an effort to clearly identity similarities and clear differences. Second, for the first time in the history of the dialogues, they together approached the selected themes from the perspective of both biblical and patristic sources (15, 293, 305-306).

Murphy stresses that the most important outcome of the fifth round was the participants’ shared conclusion that their dialogue demonstrates:
“At their core, both Pentecostal and Catholics desire all to experience Christ in a personal manner, to express, visibly manifest, and grow in their faith through discipleship with the aid of the community, and to be joined in the unity of the Spirt. In this regard, Catholics and Pentecostals are more similar than they are different and share a common goal with regard to their hopes for all who become a Christian.” (p. 306).

On this note, I find pertinent to quote the final paragraph from the fifth phase report, which I will break into three crucial parts:
“Finally, each of us has learned a great deal about the ways in which the other fosters faith, conversion, discipleship and formation, understands experience, and the Baptism in the Holy Spirit. As we reflected on the scriptures and to the witness of the early church writers, and as we heard the way our partners in this dialogue engage in fostering the Christian life in those who come to the faith, we recognize in each other a deep commitment to Christ.

Although Pentecostals and Catholics may give different emphases on aspects of becoming a Christian, each fosters the Christian life for the glory of God. Knowing this helps overcome misunderstandings or stereotypes we may have had about each other. It follows that this calls Catholics and Pentecostals to examine their conscience about the way they have sometimes described one another in the past, for example calling the other a “non-Christian” or a member of a “sect”.

We have found much that we share together. Although we have significant differences still on some questions, we are able because of our study in this dialogue, to call one another brothers and sisters in Christ.”

Murphy also notes of course, the ongoing friction, ignorance, and caricatures worldwide, that far too many members of each tradition carry and of one another. Regarding common Pentecostal ignorance, Murphy states:
“Frequently viewing Roman Catholics through a pre-Vatican II lens, many Pentecostals accept old stereotypes of the Catholic Church dating back to the Reformation or earlier, and a, as a result, ‘have failed to recognise the genuine Christian character of the Roman Catholic Church and its members’ going so far as to suggest that ‘virtually no Catholic is a Christian.” (p. 12).

The structure of Murphy’s book closely follows the fifth round’s thematic dialogues. These themes thereby structure her five middle chapters, which the book’s subtitle identifies. Though primarily written for those with ecumenical interests, her study is also helpful towards readers wanting to better understand how Pentecostalism and Roman Catholics converge and diverge in their respective understandings of becoming a Christian and growing in the Christian faith. Besides delineating the fifth round’s outcomes, Murphy also helpfully situate the dialogue within the history of the IRCPD, and suggesting how this fruit can further ongoing ecumenical progress between the two traditions, thus also inferring implications towards the greater field of inter-Christian ecumenicalism.

Meanwhile, the Sixth Phase (2011-2015) of the IRCPD has now also concluded, which was titled, “Do Not Quench the Spirit”: Charisms in the Life and Mission of the Church.” The report can be view at: http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_councils/chrstuni/pentecostals/rc_pc_chrstuni_doc_2011-2015_do-not-quench-the-spirit_en.html

I want to conclude this brief review by recalling a key aim of the fifth round, which was to help people within both traditions, recognise one another as brothers and sisters in Christ (5-13, 301-302, 307). Yet apart from formal ecumenical dialogues, how do we actually go about this, at the grassroots level? How do we help grassroots members of each tradition, move beyond ignorant based caricatures and misunderstandings of one another’s practices and beliefs? For this reason, the very best feature of Murphy’s work is her passion hope (13, 61-62) that through the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, we may continue these labours— until worldwide, Roman Catholics and Pentecostals eat together, the Eucharist at the shared table of Christ, who heals our broken communion.

https://brill.com/abstract/title/34615

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Evening prayer

On earth I am a stranger
Laid low in the dust and
Weary with sorrow.

In the night Lord
Be gracious to Your servant
Who in Your shadow
Waits for morning
With hope in You.

Peace to all
Who hope in You
Through Christ our Lordik
Who reigns with You
In the unity of the Holy Spirit;
Now and forever. Amen.

Fasting: training our body for the life of prayer

I recently read Old Testament Pentecostal scholar Lee Roy Martin’s book, Fasting, A Centre for Pentecostal Theology Short Introduction (Cleveland, TN, CPT Press, 2014). Martin’s book is perhaps the very first ever attempt from Pentecostal orientation, to construct a theology of fasting , based on a thorough analysis of the relevant biblical texts, and an ecumenically-conversant survey of historical practices across Christian traditions, with special to early 20th century Pentecostal exemplars.

I find most salient, two unique approaches Martin develops on the subject of fasting as a spiritual discipline, which he strives to develop from Pentecostal assents. First, is his final chapter titled, “Toward a Pentecostal Theology of Fasting.” Here, he persuasively argues how we can appreciate and engage the practice fasting as a key “component of Pentecostal spirituality” (p. 147). As one component, Martin outlines how “a theology of fasting may be informed by the Fivefold Gospel” (Christ as Saviour, Sanctifier, Spirit Baptiser, Healer, and Coming King) (p. 150-151f). Yet I believe that more important is Martin’s stress on how fasting fits within Pentecostal spirituality when practiced as a means of ordering bodily desires towards a hunger for God’s presence (pp.147-150, 160).

Yet more significant is how Martin earlier develops this fasting as an expression of Pentecostal embodied worship, through his chapter titled, “Toward a Biblical Theology of Fasting.” Recognising fasting as a “natural human response” to “intense affective experience” (p. 79) and particularly exemplified in biblical examples of “lament”-oriented prayer, Martin argues how the practice of fasting demonstrates a holistic approach to prayer that thus goes beyond prayer simply articulated through words “as a product of the mind” (p. 81). Hence, we can appreciate fasting as a whole-body articulation of prayer, particularly lament-oriented or urgency-oriented prayer. Therefore, fasting demonstrates an embodied and affective approach to worship. Hence, a practice that well illustrates Paul’s exhortation to “present” our “bodies” to God as “a living and holy sacrifice”; a “spiritual service for worship” (Rom 12.1) (p. 91-92)

Martin thus suggests we should approach the practice of fasting, as an important mode of physically embodied prayer. Hence, the act of fasting is prayer not just cognitively spoken, but an important act of worship, that affectively speaks expresses prayer through our whole body. Here we should recall the athletic imagery that describes the ancient Christian understanding of asceticism. We should thus approach fasting as an ascetical practice that trains our body to function as a means of embodied prayer. Faster thus helps capacitate our bodies towards acts of worship. This is incidentally, an ancient Christian understanding of fasting within the broader rubric of Christian asceticism. Moderns have often miss-construed the broad drift of acetic practices as expressing a negative orientation towards the body and/or a freeing of one’s spirit from it. Yet actually, historic Christian asceticism rather presumes the integral role of the body towards Christian spirituality; hence, like other ascetical practices, the aim of fasting is ordering the body towards its spiritual purpose, which is worship before God and embodied mission within and towards creation. Through its stress on bodily action within worship and prayer, Pentecostal spirituality affirms and exemplifies this historic ascetical orientation. Martin’s suggestive outline towards a Pentecostal theology of fasting confirms this observation. Namely, via his attempt to do so via the narrative sequence of the Five-fold Gospel; particularly when we thus appreciate the Christ as Coming King motif as inferring the missional and eschatological aim of ascetical practices, including fasting.

Martin concludes with “practical guidelines for fasting,” also recalling his own experiences with fasting and examples on how he has benefited from its practice. Here he also provides a taxonomy of varied types of fasting. Martin’s survey of the biblical data, ecumenically broad survey of varied Christian approaches, and early Pentecostal sources is commendable, and provides a helpful foundation towards constructing a theology and practice of fasting.

Much more can probably be said, and should be said on the affective role and effects of fasting; hence, how fasting fosters transrational modes of knowing, and the receiving of ecstatic experience(s). This would probably necessitate a more trans-disciplinary approach to the topic. Both the fortifying and combative role of within the notion of spiritual warfare also warrants further attention. Yet Martin provides a helpful introduction that is readable at a popular level, pastorally oriented and themed, yet evidencing solid scholarship.

Martin, Lee Roy. Fasting. A Centre for Pentecostal Theology Short Introduction. Cleveland, TN: CPT Press, 2014.

Turn our will to only the best

To help us receive the best
Over the good, turn our will
To whatever best brings You praise.
That is, the end for which You created us;
And the saving of our soul.
 
And only give us, and please give us
Whatever best brings You praise
And aids the saving of our soul.
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Awakening

From valleys of dry bones
Comes prophetic vision
That sees new flesh
Covering the slain
Four winds blowing
Healing barren wombs
Restoring forgotten soldiers
Raising up fallen seek like
A ready army running on their feet

Springing up before all nations
A harvest of righteousness that
Heals the land with peace.

Dreaming. Book review

“Hold fast to dreams

For if dreams die

Life is a broke-winged bird

That cannot fly”

By Langston Hughes

 

As I’ve been reflecting on the meaning of dreams and visions, I was recently recommended this little book (104 pages) titled Dreaming (Barbara A. Holmes [Fortress Press, 2012]).  I just read it all in one sitting.  Holmes comes from an African-American Pentecostal background.  Still remembered from the time of slavery, her family history is steeped with centuries old stories , practices, and perceptions into the true enchanted nature of reality— that grants her salient insights into the role of dreaming within the biblical witness, and should have within Christian life.  Yet even more, in a good transdisciplinary manner, Holmes effectively complements the relevant biblical themes with insights retrieved from the past few decades of dream research, particularly attending to implications emerging from studies on the body-mind interface.

I want to highlight two themes I find especially helpful.  Working from the biblical narratives, firs is Holmes’ portrayal of God as one “who dreams,” we dream as creatures “made in God’s image” (p. 43).  In some mysterious way, dreams function as some kind of sacred time and space, where God speaks within our sleep (p. 50).

Second to note, and building on the first theme, is the prophetic-ethical role Holmes perceives into the divine purpose of dreams.  Somehow, the experience of dreaming communally connects us with universal aspirations and hopes towards flourishing, especially connecting us with those of whom these aspirations have suffered under experiences of social deprivation, marginalisation, and oppression (pp. 79-92; “’I have a dream’; prophetic reveries and the hope of a reconciled future”).

Some relevant quotes:

“Dreaming is important in social and political contexts because it offers communities the opportunity to think outside of the box, to engage possibilities for creative resolutions that seem impossible to the waking mind.  Examples about of ordinary people thrust into leadership who ‘dreamed’ impossible dreams of moral flourishing an societal transformation” (p. 80).

“Dreams link us to the worlds beyond our sight. Indigenous cultures knew this and formed cultural realities that included seen and unseen realities.  To turn to ancestral knowledge about dreaming is not cultural tourism.  It is a lost thread of a history that allowed us to sit around open fires on one continent or another, contemplate the stars, and share our dreams” (p. 90).

“When it seems that the state has enforced its imperial power upon the weak, the dreamer stands before the powers that be and declares a new order. . . . Dreamers can voice the hopes of the community, the desire for justice, and the deepest desires for an unseen vision of the future” (p. 91).

https://www.amazon.com/Dreaming-Compass-Christian-Explorations-Living/dp/0800698908

 

Thwarted dreams

Thwarted dreams filled with thwarted efforts, feel like miscarriages. They are dilapidating. They weary our will, and mock the hope we confess and proclaim.

Come Holy Spirit, Lord, Giver of Life—
In valleys of dead bones
Let us hear rattling bones
And smell the scent of flesh restored.
Germinate fallen seed
Heal barren wombs
Let prophesies come to pass
With more than enough in the way of Jesus
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