Recently, I read an article on the Patheos website titled, "Rick Warren's Surprising Advice to Pentecostal Churches". Naturally, this article demanded my attention as I pondered what a Southern Baptist pastor would have to say on the subject of Pentecostal churches. Much to my surprise, I found the article to not be a rant about the Pentecostal church but an encouragement to the church. The basic point of the article written by Robert Cosy on November 8, 2011 seems to be the change in the contemporary Pentecostal church from its foundational roots - our Pentecostal distinctives.
Being a Pentecostal pastor myself (Church of God, Cleveland, Tn), I have found myself asking some of the same questions that Crosby raises in his article. Namely, has the Pentecostal church lost its distinctives? Have we as a movement so desired to be accepted that we have lost our distincitve Pentecostal worship all under the guise of relevancy? How can we maintain our Pentecostal distinctive and yet attract visitors to our churches? All of these questions and many more I have pondered through the years. This article awakened my thougths on this and I thought I would write a brief reaction to this article.
First of all, let me say that I am extremely thankful for the academic advancements we as Pentecostals have made through the years. In my denomination (the Church of God, Cleveland, TN) we have Lee Univeristy that is educating young men and women in their faith. We have the Pentecostal Theological seminary with some of the best academic minds in the Pentecostal faith training men and women for ministry. Some of the most renowned scholars in the Pentecostal movement are on facutly at our seminary. Men such as Dr. French Arrington, Dr. Hollis Gause, Dr. Steven Land, Dr. Rick Moore, and Dr. Chris Thomas are just a few of the scholars that teach at our school. Also, Oral Roberts University is another academic institution that employs some outstanding Pentecostal/Charismatic scholars. Men such as Dr. Robert Mansfield, Dr. Tevor Grizzle, Dr. Larry Hart, Dr. Dan Thimell, Dr. Brad Young and Dr. Thomson Mathew to name a few. There are several Pentecostal authors that have written renowned academic books. These authors include, Frank Macchia, Roger Stonstand and Veli-Matti Karkkainen along with some of the professors already mentioned. All of this to say, the Pentecostal church has now been taken seriously in the academic world as well.
Now, let me begin by saying how much I appreciated the article writtne by Crosby on Rick Warren's comments to the Assembly of biennial council in Phoenix. Warren is quoted as having said, "You don't need to change any of your Pentecostal practices. Do not compromise what God has called you to do; simply make it explainable." If you have ever been apart of a Pentecostal worship experience, you know that many things occur that from the perspective of a non-pentecostal and/or a non-believer may be hard to understand. The gifts of the Spirit should be not only that which makes us distinctive but should be in operation in our services. According to this article, sadly, this is not the case in the contemporary Pentecostal church.
The article notes a marked decline in the operation and manifestaion of the gifts of the Spirit in the Pentecostal church. Crosby states, "In many cases, churches and mega-churches have relegated glossolalia and other charismata [gifts] to the Sunday night services or small groups." Although there is nothing wrong with the gifts being operational in these services, they should be operational in our morning services as well.
Crosby notes several reasons as to why this change may have come to the Pentecostal church. I would like to add my thougths on why I feel this has occurred. Let me begin by saying as a Pastor I place some of the blame square on the shoulders of our Pastoral leadership. As the pastor, our job is to feed the sheep. To teach them doctrine. We must educate our people as to the proper public demonstration of the gifts as instructed in 1 Corinthians 14. Paul explains the proper demonstration of the gifts in this passage of Scripture. We as church leaders have failed to educate our people in the proper operatioin of the gifts in the public worship setting.
For years, many things that we have labeled as "spiritual" have only been manifestations of the flesh in our churches with the label of spiritual thrown on it. The proper operation of the gifts of the Spirit will always bring honor and glory to Christ. They should never bring attention to the one who is operating in the gift, but should always point to Christ. The gifts were not given to edify the one being used in the gifts, but they were given to bring glory and honor to Christ. They were given as signs of the power of the indwelling Spirit in the life of the believer. They were never intended to showcase the flesh!
The only way I see to reverse this trend of the decline of the operation of the gifts in the church is to educate both the pulpit and the pew. We need to study the Word of God so that we will be workman that does not need to be ashamed as we rightly divide the word of Truth. Then once the pulpit is ready, we must train up our people in the proper administration of the gifts of the Spirit in the worship service.
Crosby quotes Warren as saying, "Don't lose your Pentecostal distinctive." I too will reiterate this same thing we must not lose our Pentecostal distinctive. Several things can be done to help explain the public demonstration of the Spiritual gifts. For example, one can have literature available that explains the manifestation of the gifts of the Spirit. One can post on their church websites explanations of the working of the Spirit. Finally when a public demonstration of the Spirit occurs in our services, we can take that as an opportunity to Biblically explain what happened. This can be a very brief explanation but giving the explanation may help people understand better what happened. The Holy Spirit is not the giver of fear and our guests should not leave our services being fearful of what they experienced.
Finally, I would like to publicly say to Rick Warren, "Thank you for your timely message and your admonition to us to maintain our Pentecostal Distinctive." Let us begin to reclaim our Pentecostal heritage and encourage our people to seek after the gifts of the Spirit.