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BIG "C' PENTECOSTAL CHRISTIANS

by David Wells

What is clear is that most of our leaders and people do not want to be boxed into one expression of spirituality anymore.
The Pentecostal movement, as part of the historic Christian church, has been used by the Lord to bring a renewed emphasis on the Spirit’s ministry. As a revived people, we have gone in the power of the Spirit and made disciples of Jesus worldwide. The hesitance created by cessationist teaching relative to the gifts and work of the Spirit has been overcome by the evidence of a worldwide movement experiencing kingdom authority.

The reality is that Pentecostal spirituality and identity are not static. Very few Pentecostal churches today look like the Azusa Street or the Hebden mission. We as Pentecostals have responded to influences, both internal and external, which have shaped our convictions regarding the Spirit’s work in God’s people. Over the last number of decades, responses to the methodologies associated with Spirit baptism, holiness devolving to legalism, the loss of eschatological fervour, and the reaction to Pentecostal personalities and ministry styles have altered us.

In addition, other Christian movements, including our Evangelical friends, the Charismatic Renewal and “Third Wave” Pentecostal ministries, have all influenced our understanding of what it means to be the Spirit empowered people of God. There are numerous books and articles about whether this is good, bad or somewhere in between but the undeniable fact is we have been influenced by the broader Christian community even as we have influenced.

We must note that societal factors beyond the inner influences of the church have impacted the work of the Spirit among us. The pace of life, and an emphasis on individualism and material well-being, among other things, have not left us unaffected.

Internal, other Christian and external influences noted, we must also be thankful for many positive and reinforcing works of the Spirit over the past number of years that continue to reinforce our passion for Christ-centred lives and Spirit empowerment as we fulfil the mission of God in a manner that touches spirit, soul and body. The impact of the global church on many of our lives cannot be minimalized.

As a result of this journey, over the last number of years we have expanded the dimensions of our Pentecostal spirituality and identity. From church to church and believer to believer, there are “variations on a theme” regarding how the life and power of the Spirit are expressed through us. What is clear is that most of our leaders and people do not want to be boxed into one expression of spirituality anymore. Sometimes it is expressed to me as a desire to be a “pentecostal, Christian”. The small “p”, big “C” are intentional. They express it this way because their overarching desire is to be a complete follower of Jesus. To do so, they seek to experience every spiritual dimension related to God the Father, Son and Spirit.

Big “C” pentecostal Christians are not in any way denying their desperate need for the work of the Spirit in their lives. While they may communicate concern about perceived historic expressions of Pentecostal arrogancy, they do appreciate their Pentecostal moorings. For many, the reality is that they “speak in tongues more than us all.” They expect to be “normally supernatural.” They look for 24-7 expressions of the gifts and fruit of the Spirit in their lives.

However, they have moved from a fixed set, one-size-fits-all spirituality that tends to revolve around the “come and gather” functions of the church. The big “C” emphasis on how the Spirit works consistently includes how this draws me into deeper relationship with the Father and more fully expresses the Son’s character and message with kingdom authenticity. Expressing the “now” dimensions of the Kingdom within their community, and in a holistic way with neighbours, is understood to be a clear marker of their being in step with the Spirit. Integrating the Spirit’s gift of a word of wisdom in daily life with sacrificial care for the poor and dispossessed is understood to be normative in a person’s evidencing Christ’s life within them. While “Pentecostal characters” may have thrown off some, they are committed to exhibiting the character of Pentecost.

How that broad expression of spiritual life in a follower of Jesus is nurtured and matured has also been extended to include drawing from the many streams of worship, spiritual formation and discipleship that God has given to the church through the centuries. All biblical spiritual disciplines and practices from all streams past and present, are welcomed as they foster a life in the Spirit of worship and service. For instance, when Andrew Walker, in Remembering our Future: Explorations in Deep Church1 describes his exasperation with the “fad-driven one-dimensional spirituality of modern evangelicalism” and expresses the desire to “reconnect with and be deeply rooted in the common historical Christian tradition as well as the evangelical heritage,” big “C” pentecostals relate to that.

It is an understandable question to ask, “How do the desire to be a capital ‘C’ Christian and the desire to be ‘authentically Pentecostal’ relate?” Personally, I see a clear correlation when instead of posturing one as distinct from the other we adopt an integrated expression of spiritual experience. The goal of our life is to be conformed to the image of Jesus. Pentecostals clearly understand that one cannot be like Jesus and express His grace, power and message without the Spirit’s empowerment. Without compromise we continue to advocate for the initial and ongoing experience of Spirit baptism—not only as a denominational distinctive, but as a reality needed in a person’s life if they are to be like Jesus. You cannot be a capital “C” Christian without the promised power of the Spirit at work at your life, day after day, in a naturally supernatural way.

Yet there is so much more to be incorporated into our spiritual walk to be a capital “C” Christian. Thank God for those He has used to broaden our experience and who have called us to pursue spiritual disciplines and practices that Jesus, His followers and believers through the centuries have exercised. The way forward for the Pentecostal family is not to draw back and defensively protect what was. Instead, it is to exercise confidently the spiritual empowerment and gifts the Lord has given us while learning from all our brothers and sisters in Christ and valuing how the Spirit has spoken and is speaking to them. We can be distinct as spiritual families in identity and qualities without being arrogant.

Boxed set spirituality is being washed away by a deep, all-encompassing work of the Spirit. Wade in and experience the wholeness Christ has always desired for His church.

ENDNOTE
1. Andrew Walker and Luke Bretherton, eds., Remembering Our Future: Explorations in Deep Church (Colorado Springs: Paternoster, 2007).

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DAVID WELLS is the General Superintendent of The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada
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