The following is a guest post by my friend Monte Rice. Monte blogs here. He shared his reflections on the recent Society for Pentecostal Studies meeting held at Regent University in Virginia. I liked what he had to say and wanted to share it here on my blog. I know some don’t really care for liturgical approaches to Christian worship and or Spirituality. But I liked the notion of needing to regain a sense of sacred time. Before you reject it altogether, perhaps you can apply it in your own unique way to your own unique situation. Also, I wanted to post his thoughts because I wanted to show not all Pentecostals are nit-wits or non-thinking people who are only interested in esoteric experiences and babbling away in “tongues.” 🙂
Reflections on Converge21 USA cum Society for Pentecostal Studies 2012 Conference and— The Sacred Mystery of Time I am providing here a brief reflection on the 41st Annual Meeting for the Society for Pentecostal Studies cum Converge21 USA Conference (29 Feb – 4 Mar 2012).
There is so much that can be recalled, but for sake of brevity, I will largely focus on a stimulating message by Cheryl Bridges Johns, which she titled, “Theological Challenges of the Spirit-empowered Church in the United States.” I would of course, clarify here that her title could have just as well been aptly titled, “Theological Challenges of the Spirit-Empowered Church Worldwide”— as least with reference to first-world affluent settings all over the world, both East and West, and throughout the Northern and Southern hemispheres.
I find myself resonating so much with Johns’ concern on what she calls, the problem of “disenchantment” in today’s church world, with particular reference, most ironically— to Pentecostal and charismatic churches. More specifically, Johns addressed “three issues of ‘disenchantment,’ namely, the disenchantment of current Christian faith, the disenchantment of the Bible, and the disenchantment of discipleship.
Johns observes the “disenchantment” of current Christian faith, in our inability to resonate and connect with the implicit “enchanted” worldview of many “postmoderns” in our otherwise Post-Christendom 21st century context. Far too many of us, even those of us who identify ourselves as Pentecostals or Charismatics, suffer from EDD— enchantment deficit syndrome! The irony here of course, is that we who identify with Pentecostal and Charismatic spiritualities should of course be in a good position to connect with and respond to the enchanted postmodern worldview. Johns specifically identified EDD with reference to the “loss of the sacred”— how we are often incapable of discerning the “sacred” through our seeker-sensitive, market-driven and managerial/corporatised church infrastructures and ethos.
There is a dire hunger in today’s world for the supernatural, the sacred, and moreover— “mystery.” It is therefore imperative that we restore back to our own church cultures— a sense of the sacred. More specifically, if we are to better reach our postmodern world, we must restore a sense of mystery and sacredness to how we live and practice our Christian life. Johns provided three areas for us to reflect on, where we need to restore this sense of mystery and “sacredness:” the disenchantment of discipleship, of the Bible, and of space and time in Christian life. My memory and notes are a bit scanty on what Johns said about discipleship, other than the text, Exodus 33:34, with reference to the role of “holy presence” in leading people through the processes of spiritual formation. I believe though that the Holy Spirit is more than able to sufficiently sanctify your imagination to ponder where and how many current approaches to discipleship need revision towards a better perception into the mystery of human and spiritual development.
Concerning the disenchantment of Scripture, Johns believes we have too often stripped the Bible of its sacramental character, and practical recognition that is our holy and sacred Scriptures. For example, she noted that while theological liberalism has often minimised the divine inspiration of the Bible, more theologically conservative believers, and particularly Evangelicals, have also stripped the Bible of its sacramental and sacred character and purpose. Examples would include trying to make the Bible wholly conformable to modern scientific preciseness, current discoveries of science, interpreting the Bible primarily through the dictates of modern historical criticism (and popular applications of this, such as; methodical Bible study; eg., observe, interpret, apply), and thus also approaching the Bible primarily as an encyclopaedia source-book of spiritual facts. We need to restore the “holy” to the Bible.
Finally, and what I will focus most on here, is the challenge of restoring the “sacred” to our Christian approach to “time,” especially as Pentecostal and Charismatic believers. Actually, what I share here is more of my reflection on one important area of restoring the “sacred” to Christian life in the postmodern world— restoring a sense of mystery and sacredness to our journey through “time.” One practical application and call of this, which was stressed during the Converge21 USA aspect of the conference, was to “reclaim” the Day of Pentecost as a special prayer day for fresh outpourings of the Holy Spirit worldwide. I would certainly respond— all very well and good! Yet then I would add, why not go take the next logical appropriate step, and “reclaim” the whole liturgical Christian calendar (Epiphany, Lent, Easter, Pentecost, Ordinary Time, Advent, Christmas)— so that we may indeed restore a sense of holy mystery and sacredness— to every aspect of Christian life, practice, witness and mission?
Normally, we Pentecostals and Charismatics are very strong on anticipating the Holy Spirit to break in on those specially planned, “kairos” moments. We may not be so strong on anticipating or perceiving how the Holy Spirit is encountering us through normal, “chronos” time. Yet at this point, we should easily discern a common downside to our “kairos” nuanced sense of time: we implicitly gauge the worth of Christian through a toxic insistence for ecstatic experiences. These experiences thereby and most unnaturally script the maturing of our life in Christ— rather than faithfulness to the call of God and His Word.
I suggest that we can even find symptoms of this toxic craving for ecstasy, in how too often we have duped both ourselves as preachers and teachers, and our congregations, to believe that the measure of a good message is to be found in how it leads us into some kind of “kairos” type of spiritual encounter, or otherwise, into some kind of “practical” application. Fortunately, many are becoming more aware that through our past quest for cultural relevancy, we have secularised the ministries of preaching and teaching through mindless accommodation to the technocratic language of the corporatised and managerial-driven workplace. We have thus become very high on application, but very short on imagination. Hence, we fail to induct people into the prophetic imagination— that is, into the biblical imagination. Our identities as believers thus become more scripted by the language and “story-worlds” of our workplace and the world we live in— rather than by the language of Scripture. We forget— that the real purpose of ministering the Word is to shape Christian identity, through feeding our imagination and how we see ourselves in the world, with the core images, themes and framing-stories that comprise the Bible.
To put this back on the upswing, I will in a moment, briefly suggest how the liturgical calendar helps script our life in line with Scripture. But first I draw attention here to Abraham Herschel’s classic work, “The Prophets.” Herschel contrasted the pagan lust for ecstasy with the true life God calls us into, the life of holy prophethood— which comes from encountering the pathos, or heart-beat of God. [I am also drawing on some thoughts here from Christopher Dube’s essay, “From Ecstasy to Ecstasis: A Reflection on Prophetic and Pentecostal Ecstasy in the Light of John the Baptizer,” Journal of Pentecostal Theology 11 (2002)].
God encountering us indeed often comprises moments of ecstasy. A vital Pentecostal spirituality indeed comprises and rightly comprises the practice of “tarrying” and anticipating moments of ecstatic encounter with the Holy Spirit. Yet these moments never comprise and do not comprise the whole of a healthy spiritual life— which Dube argues is primarily lived by a sense of ecstasis: “the God-called way of life” (eg., “ek-stasis:” ”ek” (“out”) and “stasis” (“act or condition of standing”). Dube thus clarifies Herschel’s essential premise that the prophetic life is not primarily defined by special events of encountering God alone, as needful as these events are, but is rather defined by nurturing a sense of daily “living from the “centre” of a God-intoxicated life and a God-called life.
I believe that by allowing the whole Christian calendar to shape and define the pattern of our life throughout the year, we thereby better recover a holy sense of time. This help us also do so in manners that prompts us to discern what the Spirit is saying to us through the normal rhythm of time (chronos), and not just through those special “kairos” times. We become more alert to what the Spirit is saying through ordinary time, because we let the Spirit sanctity all seasons throughout the year.
Pentecostals and Charismatics need not fear becoming legalistically bound to precise adherence to the Christian calendar; we should certainly be in good position to model even here, a following of the Spirit rather than the “letter” of the calendar. What the Christian calendar provides us is a seasonal script— that inculcates in us, our true identity as God’s people in the world. It thus helps us live from the centre of our calling in Christ as God’s new people— by prompting us to live our daily life from reference to core framing stories recalled through the liturgical seasons.
So in allowing the Church calendar to help script our Christian identity and life, we find ourselves prompted far more often— to take off our shoes because in holy wonder, we perceive the present ordinary moment to be full of mystic revelation of God’s Word and presence. For example, the season of Lent orientates our imagination and our spirit, to a walking with Jesus up to Calvary— hence, we find ourselves existentially walking alongside Jesus to Calvary— listening to His heartbeat and the kinds of thoughts which preoccupied Him in His journey to the cross. Even more then, as we allow the Christian calendar to shape our yearly pilgrimage through time, we thereby gain all the more reason to anticipate fresh encounters with God’s Spirit as we journey through time towards those anticipated days— of new Pentecosts.
Poor and needy we are.
So with tender mercy, renew in us a faithful spirit;steadfast and not divided.
Open to us the mysteries of your love and the embrace of Your Spirit.
Open wide our mouths.
From the fount of Your wounded side, fill us with living waters.
Fill us with living waters flowing from the wounds of Your broken body.
In the breaking of bread, make known in our hearts— the fire of Your love.
Please, feel free to share any thoughts or comments you may have.