Friday, June 16, 2017

City Notes '17 | Evangelical, Sacramental, and Pentecostal: Why the Church Should Be All Three (3 of 3)




Evangelical, Sacramental, and Pentecostal | City Notes '17 3 of 3

In 1953 Lesslie Newbigin published one of the most important books on ecclesiology in the twentieth century, The Household of God. In this publication he speaks of the church, in distinct chapters, as Protestant, Catholic, and pentecostal. By Protestant, he meant the Lutheran and evangelical tradition of stressing the importance of faith in response to the Word preached. By Catholic, he meant the perspective that grants the sacraments pride of place in religious life. And by pentecostal, he meant that perspective that stressed, in his words, "experienced effects." Or, put differently, in the first, the church is the gathering of those who hear and believe the gospel; the second, the church is found in sacramental participation in the community that is in historical continuity with the apostles; and in the third, the church is the fellowship of those who receive and abide in the Spirit. + pg. 3
From previous City Notes:

City Notes '17 | Evangelical, Sacramental, and Pentecostal: Why the Church Should Be All Three (2 of 3)

| 4  The Evangelical (Protestant) Principle

The Theology of the Word: The Sequence of Creation, Logos, The Apostles, and Scripture: Jesus is a rabbi; he has followers; he teaches them. They are his disciples specifically because they attend to his teaching. He taught in larger settings, with as many as five thousand attending to his words, and he taught in intimate settings, whether the mid-night visit of Nicodemus or the mid-day encounter with the woman at the well. He taught his disciples in parables and in extended expositions. He taught in more structured settings, including the synagogue, and in more informal contexts. When an occasion arose, Jesus seized the moment to speak to the meaning of the kingdom. He taught by example, of course (consider the washing of the disciples' feet, John 13:1-5), but the life of Jesus would not have its power and meaning in the life of the church were it not for the words Jesus spoke that interpreted his actions and located them in the broader purposes of God. And this is the pivotal piece: when Jesus speaks, salvation comes. The one through whom all things were created through speaking (John 1:1) is now the one through whom all things are redeemed and made whole – again, through speaking. The same power that brought into being the cosmos is the power by which the cosmos will be saved. And this is the power of God now in Christ who speaks and stills the wind and the waves (Mark 4:35-41), the one who in speaking has the words of eternal life. God has spoken by his Son (Hebrews 1:2), and "he sustains all things by his powerful word" (Hebrews 1:3). + pgs. 55-56

The Theology of the Word: The Sequence of Creation, Logos, The Apostles, and Scripture: The Hebrew Scriptures – the Older Testament – are the witness, the words, the speaking, of the prophets. And we read that the early church "devoted themselves" to the apostles teaching (Acts 2:42), recognizing the continuity with the prophets and leaning into their witness, the witness of the apostles, as specifically the continuing Word of God. Thus we have the wonderful turn of phrase, or image, in Ephesians 2:20: the church is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone of this "structure." The witness of the apostles and the prophets is the witness of God – the revelation of the Triune God that is not merely information about God, but the communication of God's very self. When the church gathers for worship and the Scriptures are opened, read, and preached, the church is attentive, eagerly attentive, for this simple yet extraordinary reason: when the Scriptures are proclaimed, Christ is proclaimed. Even more, Christ is doing the proclaiming. The genius of preaching is precisely that the ancient Word is made present. Not just an ancient idea, but the sacred text read, opened, made clear and plain and accessible. We come to the Scriptures that we might know Christ. + pgs. 56-58

The Theology of the Word: The Sequence of Creation, Logos, The Apostles, and Scripture: However much we make of each the sixty-six books, their distinctive character, and the variety of genres, in the end, this is the God-story, the narrative of God's self-revelation through the actions of God as Creator and Redeemer and the formation for God of a people. Thus each segment of Holy Scripture is and must be read in light of the whole. And, of course, the Scriptures find their canonical center in the Gospels. + pg. 59

The Practices: Bible Study, Preaching, Meditation: Evangelicals see the focus on teaching in the ministry of Jesus and the crucial role of preaching in the book of Acts. They also appreciate such references as Nehemiah 8, with his dramatic description of the Levitical priesthood opening the sacred text, reading the text, and then explaining the meaning of text, all to great joy for those who heard. The language of the apostle Paul as he speaks of his own ministry as a preacher emphasizes that his approach was not one of rhetoric or oratory, per se, but of simple dependence on the power of God, which he links to the wisdom of Christ. Of great importance, the end it is not the text that is preached but that Christ Jesus is revealed through the text. And more, it is specifically, as the apostle puts it, "Christ crucified" (1 Corinthians 1:23). + pgs. 63, 65
Word and Sacrament: Through the sacraments, the Christian enters into fellowship not merely with the ascended Christ, but with the church. The Christian is part of the sacramental community that stretches back to the apostles. This is a powerful reminder that we read the Scriptures and proclaim the Scriptures in light of the ancient creeds and in light of the church's worship of the ascended Christ. The church, or better, the faith of the church as expressed in the Creed, anchors and informs and governs the way in which the Scriptures are read. The text is never read in isolation from the church and, specifically, the church in organic fellowship with Christ. Thus no text is read in isolation from the rest of Scripture. But more, the text is not read or preached in isolation from the church as a living community in dynamic fellowship with Christ. When we speak of the church, for those with a sacramental perspective, the saints matter; they are living embodiments of the very message of Scripture. Or as Curtis W. Freeman put it so well, the lives of the saints are "faithful performances of Scripture" – powerful and dynamic illustrations of what it means to live in Christ and to follow Christ and be transformed into the image of Christ. + pg. 67 

Word and Spirit: We never come to the proclamation of the Word through preaching except with a prayer for illumination that precedes our reading and consideration of the Scriptures. The prayer is an essential liturgical act; a means by which we signal, but more, actually enter into a conscious awareness that we are deeply dependent on the Spirit to both read and understand and live the Scriptures we are about to engage. We might pray, "Oh Father, through your word, and through your Spirit, illumine our minds, rekindle our hearts and strengthen our wills. We pray this in the name of the risen and ascended Lord Jesus Christ." We make it clear that our reading and our preaching is in the power of the Spirit. Furthermore, in our reading and preaching we very intentionally ask, what is the Spirit saying to the church, to this church, to this community, for such a time as this? + pg. 69

| 5 The Sacramental (Catholic) Principle

The church is the gathering of the baptized; the Lord's Table is the point of intense encounter between the risen Christ and the people of God. These are very communal acts, means by which the church nurtures its union with Christ and its communion with each other in Christian community. + pg. 72


The Theological Basis for the Sacramental Principle: Creation, Incarnation, Church: The theological vision or basis for the sacramental principle is anchored in three events: the creation, the incarnation, and the formation of the church. Taken together they provide us with a powerful basis for recognizing that God is revealed and God's grace is known through physical, material reality, including, most notably, baptism and the Lord's Supper. + pg. 77

The Theological Basis for the Sacramental Principle: Creation, Incarnation, Church: We must begin with a realization that the church itself is not merely a religious club, not merely a gathering of Christians for religious activities; the church itself is the actual presence of Christ in the world. The church is not a human creation, but the people of God, the body of Christ and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, brought into being – birthed – by action of the Triune God. Thus it can be said that they are distinct; the church is not Christ. But church and Christ are inseparable. We do not confuse the church with Christ; but then also, we know that we do not know Christ and live in fellowship with Christ – from a sacramental perspective – unless we are in fellowship with the church. This means that we can speak of the sacramental character of the church itself. We participate in the life of Christ through engagement with the church. The church is a continuing sign and symbol of the Risen Christ; the community of faith is the body of Christ, a living and tangible witness on the earth to the ascended Lord. The church takes water, wine, and bread – the very stuff of life, through actions ordained by Christ – sanctifies them (by the Word and by the Spirit), so that they might be drawn into fellowship with Christ and with his church and thus be drawn into fellowship with the Triune God. And the focal point is Christ. The sacraments are the very means by which we are brought into union with Christ. Thus to despise the sacraments is to despise Christ, for they re-present Christ and have been instituted by Christ to communicate his saving grace. In these acts we are united with Christ in his death and resurrection; we are in communion with Christ (Romans 6; 1 Corinthians 10). The central dynamic of the liturgical life of the church and of its sacramental life is this: we live in dynamic, intimate, and immediate fellowship with the living, ascended Christ. The ideal then is that the church would grow to appreciate that the sacraments are really nothing other than a God-ordained means by which the church lives in communion with the living Christ. This means that we believe, know, feel, and live in the ever present dynamic that Christ is present to the church as the ascended Lord, in real time. More specifically, Christ is present to the church through the sacraments. + pgs. 79-81


The Theological Basis for the Sacramental Principle: Creation, Incarnation, Church: It is so easy for worship to be purely didactic, information communicated verbally or visually, or sentimental, mere manipulation of the worshiper's heart strings. And it is also so very easy for worship to become mere observation of that which is happening on the "stage" as those present are moved by a charismatic speaker or entertained by a powerful and skilled worship band. The corrective is found through the sacraments, which integrate and ground our worship. With the sacraments we move from being observers to participants; we learn what it means to know the integration of heart and mind and the transforming grace of God that comes to us through the sacramental actions of the church. What needs to be urgently reaffirmed is that the sacraments are not incidental to the spiritual life. The sacraments are not mere tokens. They are the very means by which the church lives; the life of the church depends on them. They are crucial to our commitment to spiritual formation and discipleship. We make disciples through baptism and teaching (Matthew 28:18-20), and the essential spiritual food for spiritual growth is found in the very body of Christ that is received at the Table. We are formed by Word and Table. In sacramental actions, we take the stuff of creation and, in the power of Word and Spirit, know the revelation and grace of God in and through that which God has made. A sacrament is a Christ-ordained gesture – not just the water, but actual immersion or sprinkling with that water; not just bread and wine, but bread and wine consumed. + pgs. 82-83

Sacraments and the Spirit: Baptism, as a symbol, is a powerful witness to the cleansing power of the gospel. The Lord's Supper speaks of both the radical hospitality of Christ Jesus and the nourishment which Christ provides for his disciples. They are, of course, the actions of the faith community; we baptize one another and we take bread and cup and we participate in the ritual actions. But ultimately and essentially we affirm that the sacraments are the acts of God, who in the power of the Spirit draws us into union with Christ. Yes, we are baptized by the hands of the ordained minister; yes, we eat and drink the elements handed to us by our sisters and brothers. But if there is grace  if the symbolic rites have any meaning  it is because of the gracious work of the Spirit. And so we come to the sacrament with the prayer "come Holy Spirit come." Come, Holy Spirit, and take these physical and tangible things  bread, cup, water  so that they might be a means of grace to the people of God. The church must call for and affirm the presence of the Spirit in the sacramental actions of the church. There is an ancient word for this prayer, epiclesis. And it is essential. In many respects, it makes all the difference. + pgs. 88, 91-92


Sacraments and the Word, Sacraments and the Spirit: With a dynamic theology of the Spirit, we can affirm that the Spirit, informing Word and sacrament, makes them a means of grace. As Simon Chan puts it, "Without active participation and the Spirit's presence, the liturgy of the Word becomes mere intellectualism; the liturgy of the sacrament becomes mere ritualism." Without the epiclesis  the prayer "come, Holy Spirit come"  we in effect signal that these actions are human work and no more. In the end, in humble dependence on the Spirit, we enter into the waters of baptism and come to the Table, eager to trust more, eager to grow in faith. As with the Word, humility is always the crucial disposition for those who come to the Lord's Table. We come trusting; we come with whatever measure of faith we have. The sacraments strengthen our faith; we come in response to the Word, in dependence on the Spirit, and eager for our faith to be not merely internal but actually embodied. We come, leaning into the Word and the Spirit, recognizing that we are coming along with the company of God's people. What carries the day is not the quality or level of our faith, but the Word and the Spirit and the company of people who are the body of Christ. + pgs. 92-94

Sacramental Spirituality: Sacramental Christians tend to be more ecumenically oriented; they recognize that for all its flaws, the church is still the body of Christ. Typically, also, those of a sacramental perspective will lean into the apostolicity of the church  recognizing the importance of fellowship with those communions that are in historic fellowship with the apostles. And in this regard, these more sacramental traditions take ordination seriously, recognizing its sacramental perspective. Those of a more sacramental persuasion not only see themselves to be in sacramental communion with the whole historic church, back to the apostles, but also in dynamic fellowship with those who have already crossed over  the saints, the "cloud of witnesses" that surrounds the contemporary Christian community (Hebrews 12:1). They also find that God reveals God's very self and God's grace not merely in baptism and the Lord's Table but in other physical and tangible manifestations of God's holy presence. A pilgrimage becomes a means of grace as through the act of walking, one embodies the inner journey of faith. The sign of the cross becomes an essential means by which one identifies with the cross of Christ. And holy water is a subtle but potentially powerful means of living again in the grace of one's baptism. Yet when all is said and done, any reflection on the sacraments brings us back to two extraordinary gifts – gifts from God, for the people of God  two gifts that make the church the church: baptism and the Lord's Supper. We receive both in faith and thanksgiving. And it is imperative that we appreciate that through these, Christ is present to his people, and that this is a transformative presence. In worship, the symbol and reality are one. Baptism then becomes the focal point of one's initiation into the faith. And the Lord's Supper, the Eucharist, becomes the focal point, the high point, of the gathering of the people of God for worship. + pgs. 95-96

| 6 The Pentecostal Principle

Between Galatians 5:16 and Galatians 6:10 we have a string of references to the dynamic of the Spirit's immediate presence and impact both in the lives of Christian believers and the life of the church. The segment opens with a call to "walk by the Spirit" (Galatians 5:16) that seems to be linked with being "led by the Spirit" (Galatians 5:18). Then we have the clear expectation that Christian believers and indeed the Christian community will bear the fruit of the Spirit: "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control" (Galatians 5:22-23). Then the apostle comes back to the opening baseline and speaks of living by the Spirit, which is here linked with "keeping in step with the Spirit" (Galatians 5:25). And all of this is seemingly made possible because, as he puts it in Galatians 6:1, we have "received the Spirit" and so we can correct others, as necessary, with gentleness. And finally there is the observation that those who do well and live in generous community are those who "sow to the Spirit" (Galatians 6:8). The challenge from those of pentecostal persuasion to the evangelical and the more sacramental Christian is that the witness of the Scriptures and the history of the church suggests that we are invited – better put, called  to live in conscious awareness of the Spirit in our lives and in radical dependence on the Spirit to live our lives. The Spirit is a person and a full member of the Trinity, and, further, the Spirit is the gift from the Father, through the Son, the one by whom we live in union with Christ, dwell in his love, and are empowered to live in community and to fulfill our respective vocations. The church is the church in the power of the Spirit as it fulfills both its call to unity and the call to mission. + pgs. 97-99


The Historic Witness to the Immediacy of the Spirit: From the church fathers to the Medieval mystics like Bernard of Clairvaux to the 16th century Catholic Reformers, including John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila, and Ignatius Loyola, and then on to John and Charles Wesley, and, with many other voices along the way, to the contemporary charismatic communities and movements that make up a huge segment of the global Christian community in this century, these voices and movements typically recognized the importance not only of experience but also, particularly, experience that could be described as "movements of the heart." As such they affirmed the vital place of affect and emotion in the life of the church and the life of the individual Christian. They speak collectively of the Pentecost principle – that the Spirit witnesses with our spirits (Romans 8:16), that the Spirit pours the love of God into our hearts (Romans 5:5), and that the genius of the spiritual life is to know the grace of walking in and living by the Spirit. + pgs. 99-100

The Historic Witness to the Immediacy of the Spirit: At its best, the charismatic and pentecostal movement has emphasized that the spiritual world is immediate – and that the Holy Spirit has and is infusing the creation, the church, and potentially each individual Christian believer with divine grace. The church is to seek and live in dynamic fellowship with the Spirit, a fellowship that will be evident in two things, love – the experience of God's love that radiates within the faith community and to the world – and second, the experience of a deep and resilient joy. + pg. 105 


The Theological Foundations for the Pentecostal Principle: Robert Louis Wilken in his study of early Christian worship and spirituality notes that the sending of the Son and the sending of the Spirit informed the worship and the prayers of the early church such that there was a deep awareness of the incarnation and then Pentecost as distinct but complementary events. Reference was often made to Galatians 4:4-7: "But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, 'Abba! Father!' So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God." In time the early church came to view the Feast of Pentecost as an integral part of the church calendar, celebrating the gift of the Spirit with the same attention that they would have given to the gift of the incarnation. Even as the church experienced the incarnation and the death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ the church also, as a distinct experience, knows the gifts of the Spirit. The second is the essential complement to the first. There is no experience of Christ that is not mediated by the Spirit; all we know of Christ, including a knowledge of Christ's love, is granted to the church by the Spirit. And more, even though this experience of the Spirit is grounded in the life of the church and complemented by the witness of the Scriptures, the experience is immediate – drawing God's people, collectively and individually, into the very presence of Christ. The Spirit is sent so that the church abides in the love of Christ (Romans 5:5) Consider the even more explicit language of 1 John 4:13: "By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit." In and through the Spirit, the gift from God, the church is drawn into fellowship with Christ. + pgs. 105-107

The Theological Foundations for the Pentecostal Principle: The crucial and critical matter to appreciate is that the experience – the affective awareness, the heartfelt knowledge – is very specifically of God's very self. And the ancient mystics and the contemporary charismatic would suggest to us that this is not some unusual or perhaps more specifically elitist experience reserved for a few but rather that actual and very meaning of Christian existence. It thus shapes the ordinary and mundane contours and elements of each individual life and the life of each congregation of Christian believers. In speaking of the ordinary, we are not discounting the place of ecstasy or of the unusual or the spontaneous. Yet we should not assume that the experience of the Spirit means that routines, rituals, and the rhythms of daily life, indeed in the very ordinariness of lived experience – in the quotidian of our lives – are dismissed. The Spirit must be found and known in the ordinary; if he is not found here – in the ordinary – it will not ultimately be transformative. Whereas the books of Luke and Acts do highlight the numinous and the extraordinary, it is also evident that the experience of the Spirit is basic and foundational to the life of the church – thus, Acts 2:42 – what did the "spirit baptized" church do? They devoted themselves to the apostles teaching and the breaking of bread, to the fellowship and the prayers. Furthermore, the apostle Paul seems to indicate that the essence of the pentecostal experience is not charismata – whether that be healings, tongues-speaking, or ecstatic experience – but rather the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22), which then is a means by which the Spirit graces ordinary Christian community. The heart of the Spirit-filled life is an immediate awareness of the presence of Christ, and the fruit or evidence of that awareness is the quality of human existence that is the fruit of living "in Christ" in gracious community." + pgs. 110-111  


The Theological Foundations for the Pentecostal Principle: The mystical tradition has always recognized that the Spirit often works in our lives as a manner that is deep, quiet, and not always emotionally satisfying. John of the Cross could speak of the "dark night," for example. And this is not a suggestion that God is not as present to the Christian but rather that the deep work of God may often come to us in times of winter silence, even darkness. This darkness or quietness is not a signal that something is wrong but rather that the work of the Spirit in our lives and in our midst happens in times of joyful engagement but also in times of quiet, when the heart is still, perhaps even in times of emotional desolation or darkness. In other words, all of us – the Pentecostal included – need to affirm a simple but powerful observation: we do not equate the work of the Spirit with height of emotional expression. And yet the bottom line remains: the genius of the pentecostal vision is that we have an unmediated experience, however ecstatic or unusual or ordinary, that cannot be attributed to any other source than God's very self, graciously offered and given and known. And the point is that this is not something unique and thus open to a few, but rather that this experience of the spirit is the birthright of every Christian. In the warp and woof of daily experience, what defines us is not deep thoughts or heroic actions but a powerful contentment, a delight in God and in the love of God." + pg. 112

Creation, Ecology, and the brooding Spirit: A dynamic and more comprehensive theology of the Spirit will include and be grounded in a theology of creation. There is a powerful counterpoint between Genesis 1 and Romans 8. The Spirit at creation hovers over the void and the darkness, and out of darkness and void brings light and life. This same Spirit is referenced in Romans 8, groaning, yearning, and longing for the healing of all things. Few have witnessed to this connection as brilliantly as the English Jesuit poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins. He is a true sacramentalist when he opens what is for many the favorite of his poems with his line: "The world is charged with the grandeur of God." Our engagement with the Spirit leads to a deep appreciation for and commitment to beauty. As Hans Urs von Balthasar has stressed, beauty is indispensable to life; beauty is the very means by which God is known and the Spirit is present to us. Thus the artists in our midst are crucial pentecostal vangards, gifts (charismata) of the Spirit, who enable the church and the world to know the beauty, holiness, and love of the Creator. Artists thus value the reference to Bezalel who played a key role in the building of the tabernacle, as described in Exodus 31:2-5. It also means that if we are "in the Spirit," we will attend to those who call us to seek the healing of creation – prophets, advocates, environmentally attentive scientists. They too are agents of the Spirit, charismatic gifts and participants in the gracious purposes of God in the world. + pgs. 114-115 


Word and Sacrament Remain: We make disciples baptizing and teaching them (Matthew 28:18-20); the early church devoted themselves to the apostles teaching and "breaking of bread" including the Lord's Supper (Acts 2:42). We can embrace a full and dynamic appreciation of the Spirit in the life of the church without in any way diminishing the critical role of the Scriptures – read and preached – and the fundamental rites of baptism and the Lord's Supper. Word and sacrament are an indispensable means by which the Spirit graces the church, the individual Christian, and indeed the world. More, they are the very means by which the Spirit is present to the church, graces the church, and empowers and equips the church to be the church. It is no overstatement that it grieves the Holy Spirit when we neglect the Scriptures or the sacraments. The most fundamental means by which the Spirit does the Spirit's work of transformation in the life of the church is through Word and sacrament. These, together, are foundational. But more, what needs to also be stressed is that in our very liturgies we should make it abundantly clear that the operative agent in both Word and sacrament is the Spirit. That is, in our worship, it should be clear – evident and obvious – that both Word and sacrament are supremely charismatic events, means and moments wherein the Spirit of the Living God is present to the world. We speak of the immediacy of the Spirit in the life of the church, but we can only truly do so if and as both Word and sacrament are fully informing, animating, and grounding the life of the church. We are not truly pentecostal, in other words, unless we are sacramental, and we are not truly a people who live in the fulness of the Spirit if we are not a people who live by and are feeding on the Word. + pgs. 115-116 

Being Intentional: Learning to Live "In the Spirit": The bottom line is that if we are truly pentecostal, we will have a theology of the Holy Spirit that will inform and infuse the life of the ordinary Christian – sufficiently so that the typical Christian believer will know what it means to live in dynamic fellowship with the Spirit, living not as a naturalist, but with an awareness of transcendent presence in life, work, and relationships. And if we are pentecostal, we are open to surprises. The Spirit cannot be controlled, manipulated, or commodified. Simon Chan observes that while the downside of the pentecostal tradition includes a disparagement of routine, ritual, and said prayers, the counter to this is that those of us who are more comfortable in ordered and intentionally structured settings and liturgies need to affirm that the Spirit is the Spirit and more than able to bypass the program and be present in our lives in ways that confound our plans and procedures. + pgs. 117-118 


The anointing of the sick: We must speak of the grace of anointing the sick and actually expecting them to know the healing grace of the Spirit. The ministry of anointing should never be viewed as antithetical to the good work of medicine, neither should it be framed in a way that discounts the reality of suffering in the world, in the church, and in the life of the Christian. We can and must affirm the place of the medical profession in care of body and soul; this work is no less the work of God and the healing grace of the Spirit than the laying on of hands. Further, we can and must affirm that we are called to suffer with Christ (Romans 8:17), and that much of the grace of the Spirit is precisely this empowerment to carry the weight of the world. And yet the pentecostal tradition affirms, and rightly, the distinctive place of the church in the laying on of hands – the anointing of the sick – with the expectation that they will know the sustaining and healing grace of the Spirit. I use the word expectation intentionally, suggesting that while we do not presume, we do actually anticipate that the Spirit of God would intervene in our broken and fragmented world – in our bodies, in our communities, between peoples, in ways that could only be accredited to the intervention of the Spirit of God. + pgs. 118-119  

Discernment (and prophecies): When the church is wrestling with a significant decision on ethical matters, the Evangelical (Protestant) will appeal to Scripture and consider what the Bible says we should do on this or that or the other. And if Evangelicals disagree on something, they will typically appeal to the Bible and see who has the most verses supporting their position. The sacramental (Catholic) Christian would typically appeal to the historic tradition. But the pentecostal principle would suggest that we can also ask, "What is the Spirit saying to the church, in our time and place?" The immediate witness of the Spirit is or at least can be a very significant factor in our discernment. When faced with a key issue or decision, in other words, we would ask, "How is the Spirit taking the ancient text, as the baseline for all that we consider, and how does the church's tradition finding expression today through the work of the Spirit?" It means that the experience of the Spirit is a dynamic source for guidance and discernment, along with Scripture (evangelical-Protestant) and tradition (sacramental-Catholic). But also, those within the charismatic and pentecostal traditions typically affirm the possibility of a prophetic word: an individual within the community, perhaps has a "word" from God for the community. If this word is truly from God, it will be consistent with and in continuity with Scripture and tradition. The canon is closed. But it will still be a new word – from God, through a prophetic utterance – signaling how the church today is being called to live in a way that is faithful to the gospel. Discernment is still required, always. And yet the mystical and pentecostal traditions affirm the potential for this kind of immediacy – Christ, through the work of the Spirit, speaking to the church today. + pgs. 119-120


The church – a Pentecostal perspective: 
| 1 | The Spirit is an ecumenical spirit; if we are in the Spirit, we are committed to working with and fostering the unity of the church universal. Pentecostal sectarianism is an oxymoron. The Spirit is a unifying agent, the mothering presence of God that unites the children of God. The Day of Pentecost speaks not only of the outpouring of the Spirit but also of the formation of the church. And there is only one church and thus there is no surprise that the Scriptures call the church to make "every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Ephesians 4:3).
| 2 | We recognize that the mission of the church – witnessing in word and deed to the reign of Christ – will be explicitly and intentionally done in the power of the Spirit. We will welcome the diverse ways in which men and women are called of the Spirit into mission and we will welcome the signs that are evidence of the Spirit's work, recognizing that mission is not ultimately about our accomplishments, but rather it is about God. Thus we will come up against those moments, those events, those experiences, in mission, that can only be attributed to God's intervention in our lives, in our churches, and in our world. 
| 3 | We will appreciate that in our governance, in the way that the church is organized and structured, there will be a stream of witness by the Spirit to and within and from the church that bypasses our systems of governance. Karl Rahner speaks of a dynamic and healthy tension between the institutional church and the charismatic church. He rightly insists that neither is a threat to the other; they mutually reinforce and strengthen each other. The Spirit does work through those who have official roles and responsibilities in the church (the clergy, for example). And good governance matters. And yet Rahner observes that the New Testament witnesses to a variety of charisms, gifts, that may or may not be exercised through the church's official ministry. Rahner, very much in sync with the mystical tradition at this point, observes that this is a work of the Spirit that complements the work of the Spirit through the teaching and sacramental offices of the church. + pgs. 120-121

The grace of God is always located within Christian community. The Spirit, the Word, and the sacramental life of the church are all housed within a community that is demarcated by love and committed to mission in the world. Thus the work of the Spirit finds expression within the dynamics of Christian fellowship; the Word is spoken and heard within a living congregation; and the sacraments are, of course, fundamentally and essentially acts of the community within community. + pg. 125


| 1 | Why not approach Advent-Christmas-Epiphany as that season of the year when we lean into the wonder of the incarnation and grow in our appreciation of the sacramental means of grace? God became flesh; we celebrate the deep power of this physicality in the communication of the grace of God. 
| 2 | Could we approach the season of Lent through till Holy Week, including Good Friday and Easter Sunday, as a rich time of year when we can enter intentionally into the Scriptures – re-learning and re-appropriating the Word to which we respond penitentially, especially through Lent?
| 3 | And then also, could we see the time between Ascension Day and Pentecost, from the fortieth until the fiftieth day after Easter, a ten day window in the calendar, as the occasion and opportunity to enter afresh into the gift of the Spirit? Pentecost Sunday, then, would have similar weight to the celebrations we have for Advent-Christmas and Lent-Easter. We would start with Ascension Day and then move to the Sunday after for a full appreciation of the wonder of Christ is at the right hand of God. Then after a week of waiting and anticipation, we would gather for a renewed celebration of and appropriation of the gift of the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost. + pg. 126

Next post: City Notes '17 | Faith Without Illusions: What Makes Us Cynical

City Notes are meant to provide you with direct quotes from some books I've read this year, so you can get a taste of the overall theme of the book and then begin to chew on what your life might look like if you applied what you read.

Here are links to previous City Notes books:

2014 | A Meal with Jesus; The Art of NeighboringA Praying LifeBuilding a Healthy Multi-Ethnic Church; Family on Mission; Encounters with JesusOne Thousand Gifts 

2015 | The Rest of God; Everyday ChurchRhythms of Grace

2016 | Letters to a Birmingham JailA Field Guide for Everyday MissionNotes from a Failed Missionary on Rediscovering FaithThe Pursuing GodYawning at Tigers

2017 | Gospel Fluency
Moving Towards Emmaus; Evangelical, Sacramental, and Pentecostal (1 of 3)

Other City Notes Specials | 13 Marks of a Faithful Missional ChurchBaptism: The Water That Unites

+ Rev. Mike "Sully" Sullivan


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