on Pentecostal Hermeneutics

For those who may be wondering how Pentecostals go about interpreting the Bible – the Assemblies of God’s Enrichment Journal, which goes out quarterly to all licensed and ordained ministers in the Assemblies, but that can also be viewed online, has an article (written about 10 years ago) by Roger Stronstad summarizing different elements or currents trends of Pentecostal Hermeneutics.  I hadn’t seen it so it was interesting even for me to read – I was familiar with some of it but not all of it.  lol.

In the article you’ll see one call the “pragmatic” hermeneutic.  This portion gives you a little bit of history as to how the whole thing got started, well, at least a key even that seemed to really catapult the movement forward in a significant way.  There were workings of the Holy Spirit going on all over the world at the time, but this and other events leading to the Azusa Revival seem to be the most well known.   It is interesting too that this is listed first in the summary because really, the heart of Pentecostal theology, which can be really diverse with no one single simple definition, is pragmatics (used here in the sense of relating to practical considerations).  In too many ways, its both a good and a bad thing.

Here is an excerpt:

As Martin Luther is the fountainhead of Lutheranism, John Calvin of Reformed Theology, and John Wesley of Methodism, so Charles F. Parham stands as the fountainhead of Pentecostalism. Parham was not the first to speak in tongues. In one sense that honor goes to Miss Agnes N. Ozman.  In another sense, the birth of the Pentecostal movement is the climax to the growing swell of charismatic experiences among various revival and Apostolic Faith movements. What makes Charles F. Parham the father of Pentecostalism, Topeka, Kansas, the locus of Pentecostalism, and Agnes Ozman, the first Pentecostal, is not the uniqueness of this experience, but the new hermeneutical/biblical understanding of this experience.

Charles F. Parham bequeathed to the Pentecostal movement its definitive hermeneutics, and consequently, its definitive theology and apologetics. His contribution arose out of the problem of the interpretation of the second chapter of Acts and his conviction that Christian experience in the 20th century “should tally exactly with the Bible, [but] neither sanctification nor the anointing that abideth … tallied with the 2nd chapter of Acts.” Consequently he reports, “I set the students at work studying out diligently what was the Bible evidence of the baptism of the Holy Ghost that we might go before the world with something that was indisputable because it tallied absolutely with the Word.” He tells the results of their investigation in the following words: “Leaving the school for three days at this task, I went to Kansas City for three days services. I returned to the school on the morning preceding Watch Night service in the year 1900.

“At about 10:00 o’clock in the morning I rang the bell calling all the students into the Chapel to get their report on the matter in hand. To my astonishment they all had the same story, that while there were different things occurring when the Pentecostal blessing fell, the indisputable proof on each occasion was, that they spoke with other tongues.”5

In Parham’s report we find the essential distinctives of the Pentecostal movement, namely, (1) the conviction that contemporary experience should be identical to apostolic Christianity, (2) the separation of the baptism in the Holy Spirit from sanctification (as Holiness movements had earlier separated it from conversion/incorporation), and (3) that tongues speaking is the indisputable evidence or proof of the baptism in the Holy Spirit.

Well, be that as it may, I find it all very interesting and really, given the context, I don’t think you can really blame Parham for wanting to know what was the source of the Apostles zeal.  I think too his quest for “Bible evidence” is evident of the times he lived in – people were big then on wanting empirical evidence for things and in this case it morphed a bit in to wanting “physical” evidence for knowing without a doubt one is in fact baptized in the Holy Spirit.  Agree or disagree with this approach, I don’t think we can fault them for that.  He was a man of his time really.  And this is really the root of much Pentecostal theology and understanding of Spirit Baptism – that there is going to be “evidence” for it.

Well, feel free to give it a read and or let me know what you think.

Blessings,

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