Why Should Pentecostals Become Orthodox Christians? A Short Answer

pentecost-russian

The following is adapted from the working text for the revised, expanded edition of Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy: Finding the Way to Christ in a Complicated Religious Landscape, which is available as an updated podcast, with a new episode available weekly. The first edition of the book from 2011 is still available. This passage is adapted from the concluding passage of the all-new chapter on Pentecostalism. The podcast recordings of this section will air in several weeks. There is not yet a set date for the release of the new edition of the book.

Are all the signs and wonders claimed by the Pentecostal movement truly real? Can Pentecostals really deliver when it comes to performing miracles? If so, that is probably their best evidence for truly being spokesmen for God.

This is a very difficult question, especially because there is evidence for miracles in many religions, even among non-Christians. It is not unique to Pentecostal Christianity. There are numerous possibilities for explaining the experience of miracles in the Pentecostal movement.

Many effects could be purely psychological or psychosomatic—whether speaking in tongues, healing, or others. Some might be pure fraud. Some might be the application of human spiritual energies—natural abilities in mankind that most people do not know how to tap into. They could be the influence of demons. They could be the influence of angels. And they could be the presence of the Holy Spirit.

I suspect that all of those things may be active in the Pentecostal movement. Knowing for sure would probably require a close investigation of each instance by people far more spiritually advanced than I am. So I’m not willing to lay out a definite ruling on everything happening there. I do believe, as I mentioned earlier, that some of these practices are at least dangerous and problematic, especially as they depart from the norms of Orthodox tradition.

What about the revelations claimed by Pentecostal leaders and believers? Is God really appearing to them and giving them new revelations, some limited and specific, some much larger in scope? As an Orthodox Christian, in that many of these revelations contradict Orthodox tradition, I have reason to doubt them. But even outside a commitment to Orthodox tradition, we can observe that such revelations often contradict each other and even the Bible (when it’s not being stretched beyond recognition to apply to the new word of knowledge). Even if it is true that God is speaking directly to some of these Christians, it is very difficult to sift out what is true from what is false, because there is no guiding tradition governing Pentecostalism to use as a measure.

What I am more interested in is how Pentecostals may come to find a home in Orthodoxy. In some ways, Pentecostals and Holiness believers may approach the Orthodox Church quite differently from mainstream Protestants and Evangelicals. Those more in touch with their Holiness roots will not find in Orthodoxy the moralism of their founders, but may nevertheless appreciate our ascetical emphasis on purity. Those who especially focus on healing from God may connect with our theology of salvation as a healing process. The highly interactive character of Pentecostal services may make the back-and-forth rhythms of liturgy more accessible. Some may be attracted by our sense that everyone has a “personal Pentecost” when he is chrismated, that that first Pentecost never truly ended. And Pentecostals who thrill at the stories of famous faith healers and fiery preachers will no doubt have their heads set spinning at the stories of the lives of the saints.

On a deeper level, I believe that one of the things that Pentecostals share with the Orthodox is a lack of fear of materiality when it comes to the spiritual life—something that distinguishes them from most Evangelicals and other Protestants, who tend to shun this as idolatry. The Orthodox believe that holiness can reside in physical things, including our own bodies, and so do Pentecostals. We may not engage in “grave soaking,” but we certainly do like to visit the graves of saints and ask for their prayers. And we do have the sense that physical touch can be an important part of our connection with the saints. Our dedication to physical beauty and love for the mystical experience of worship with all five senses may be for a Pentecostal seeker a fulfillment of all his long hopes.

The appeal of Pentecostalism in all its forms is that it speaks directly to the real pain and suffering of people, to their need for healing and contact with God. While I do not believe that its methods and peculiar beliefs are the best way to do this (and in some cases are counterproductive), even the acknowledgement of this need in people is powerful and compelling. Orthodoxy, when truly lived, also sees the pain of mankind and offers true consolation and hope for resurrection.

While the Orthodox do not seek for God with the pursuit of ecstasy and the constant expectation of miracles, we do believe that He touches us directly in the holy sacraments. And I believe that it is this experience of the very touch of God that may appeal most to Pentecostals and bring them home into Orthodoxy.

34 comments:

  1. “And I believe that it is this experience of the very touch of God that may appeal most to Pentecostals and bring them home into Orthodoxy.”

    But if they already have this then why would they choose Orthodoxy? I note your use of the words “also” and “shared”, pointing out similarities between Orthodoxy and Pentecostalism. Pentecostals “share” with the Orthodox a “lack of fear of materiality”. Orthodoxy, like Pentecostalism, “also sees the pain of mankind and offers true consolation and hope for resurrection.” What the Orthodox have sacramentally the Pentecostals claim to already have immediately.

    You say that the Pentecostals “have no guiding tradition governing Pentecostalism to serve as a measure”. Do not Pentecostals look to the apostles, the writings of the New Testament, to guide and measure them? Thus, do they not stand in the apostolic stream of Christianity?

    What do Pentecostals lack that Orthodoxy can supply? Why aren’t the Orthodox Pentecostal/Charismatic as were the christians of the New Testament church?

    1. This short piece is necessarily limited in that it is the end of a 17,000-word long chapter, so it’s really more of a summary than anything.

      That said, it is true that Pentecostals look to the New Testament, but they also look to a new event, the Second Pentecost which is said to have occurred around the turn of the twentieth century. That is a real game changer that makes them quite different from Protestants in general (and, I argue, essentially a new form of Christianity). Because of this Second Pentecost with the new revelations that follow, authority is not derived only from reading the NT but also from new teachers who claim to have been visited by God Himself. And there is nothing to govern them all together — thus, no guiding tradition.

      As for what Orthodoxy has that Pentecostalism lacks, I do cover that more thoroughly in what precedes this, but I can summarize here a bit further with two points (which I make in this excerpt, but I’ll make again more directly):

      1. There is reason to doubt the miraculous claims of Pentecostalism. If it’s not real (or not what they say it is), then the need may actually be going unmet.

      2. Orthodoxy is not merely offering an alternative to what Pentecostals may believe they already have, but the full, apostolic revelation and experience of what it could be. For instance, the faith healing movement offers healing which tends not actually to work for most people and soon goes away for most of the rest. But Orthodoxy (which does occasionally see miraculous healing) offers something much more profound and permanent–healing for the whole human person (including a peace and sobriety uncharacteristic of Pentecostalism) made full in the resurrection.

      I could say a lot more, and I must apologize that this excerpt can’t do everything that the 16,000+ words before it do. It’s a shameless teaser, I’m afraid. 🙂

      1. Father,

        Thank you for this “shameless teaser” :). I’ll be getting a copy of the book as I’m wanting to know more about this notion of a “second Pentecost” and how it has spawned a “new form of Christianity”. Do you draw a distinction between Pentecostalism and the Charismatic movement?

        I am not an Orthodox christian but I do attend an Orthodox church on a regular basis. (My granddaughter was baptized a few weeks ago.) In addition I meet with the priest of that parish each Friday to read and discuss patristic writings. I have enjoyed a number of your podcasts, particularly those on Ignatius.

        1. Yes, I spend much of the chapter laying out the history of the movements, as that seems to me the best way to introduce the concepts. Pentecostalism proper comes first, then the Charismatic movement, then the Third Wave, then the Word of Faith movement and the Prosperity Gospel.

          Thanks for your kind words. God willing, the Ignatius material will be published (with some reworking) as a book sometime early in 2017, entitled Bearing God.

          1. Outlining this progression has just helped me to begin to understand a friend’s faith; thank you, Father. I look forward to the updated book and the completed 2.0 podcast series. The original series shed so much light on many of my experiences and was also great just for my general information; thank you for the work it all has taken (and will keep taking!).

      2. I am Pentecostal and grew up in “The Church of God” of Cleveland, TN. I never saw any reference to a “second Pentecost.” There were historical references, but only in terms of revival of a practice. It was never as some sort of touchstone. Scripture was always the touchstone that determined both doctrine and practice.

        While there are some that claim personal visitations from Christ in reference to certain teachings, this was not something I saw in Pentecostal Churches. The only places I have seen such things is among certain of the so called “Faith teachers.”

        The Charismatic movement is something else again. The Church of God used to preach against many of the practices of Charismatics. As time has gone by, however, many of those same practices have infiltrated Pentecostal denominations to their detriment.

        1. I develop the belief in a second Pentecost in the text that precedes this excerpt. I’m not claiming it as a doctrinal affirmation, by the way, but the seed of Pentecostalism really did depend on the idea that something new happened right around the turn of the 20th century. It was definitely seen as much more than a revival of practice, i.e., something initiated by believers. Rather, it was described explicitly in terms of being a new fulfillment of the prophecy of Joel about the outpouring of the Spirit. It’s definitely a historical event that is claimed to have been initiated by God.

          And while you may not have seen a lot in the way of people claiming personal revelations from God, it’s really all over the Pentecostal tradition. Read through some of the accounts of the great Pentecostal leaders to see what I mean.

    2. increasingly the charismatic scene moves away from the Bible to personal experience as sole guide, especially the prophetic movement and those claiming they have “apostles” today.

      as for “moralism” I am not sure what you mean. Orthodoxy is very much about morality perhaps that is part of what you are referring to as “purity,” and the old line holiness thing often went to the extreme of no dancing, no alcohol at all, no movies, etc. without concern of content or context. the modern megachurch charismatic scene is in the other direction, statement of faith may endorse repentance from sin but in practice and preaching it is largely left out, the message of the services is more like a night club and its worldliness and gets into the contemplative prayer which is far eastern mind blanking mysticism, not the contemplation of Scripture or of Jesus while you pray that the Desert Fathers did. the western monastics developed the subjectivist and prelest laden technique in overreaction to scholasticism.

      1. The moralism I’m referring to is exactly what you mention — no smoking, dancing, drinking, playing cards, etc., especially including condemnations of those who do not agree — a rather puritanical approach to morality. (Moralism is essentially an almost pharisaical approach to morality, fixating on certain things which may not really even be traditional moral teachings.) This is one of the reasons why a lot of old-school Pentecostals doubted the veracity of the spiritual gifts of those in the Charismatic movement, because they didn’t adhere to the standards developed in the Holiness movement.

  2. Dear Father,

    I appreciate your article and I agree that in order to evangelize the Pentecostal heterodox as other heterodox, it is a good idea to meet them on common ground and emphasize our similarities. But, I believe another good way to make Orthodoxy more visible, is through the visual arts and by truly opening up our Churches to the outside world.
    In the Protestant Evangelical world, worship music is huge and one can argue, the “centerpiece” of their worship. I live in San Francisco in the state of California, and cannot find one Byzantine Music worship concert. So, I believe a great way to expose our faith is through our music, which really speaks about our faith, since the Lord’s words are embedded in each and every verse.
    Also, I find it saddening that non-Orthodox find it intimidating to even enter an Orthodox Church (often times because the only day the Church is open is once per week for Sunday Liturgy) and many who “shy-away” from Church don’t want to go on that day, because they don’t want to worship but are just curious and want to get a feel for the place. How about keeping Orthodox Churches open all day (as is the case in Greece-the country)? This way, a seeker can just walk in and take in the beauty of the mosaics, iconography, and the other beautiful sites and smells of our beautiful Orthodox Church. I would love to hear yours and others opinions about my ideas. God bless you and may the Panayia be with you.

    1. I live in San Francisco in the state of California, and cannot find one Byzantine Music worship concert.

      How is it that you missed this?

      The Greek Orthodox Metropolis of San Francisco actually has multiple programs dedicated to Byzantine music, and I’ve read about concerts many times:

      http://www.koukouzelis.org/
      http://www.byzantinemusicschool.com/
      http://sfgocm.goarch.org/music/byzantinemusicactivity.html

      I would definitely be up for keeping churches open all day long, but many parishes have found that that opens the church up to vandalism, and of course for the many parishes who have only one actual full-time staff member (the priest), keeping the church open all the time would be impossible. The culture in America is unfortunately such that leaving a church open and unattended would not yield the same results as it does in Greece. People do not respect churches here as they do there.

      1. I often feel sadness because churches in the U.S. cannot afford to remain unlocked. Especially in an Orthodox Church, with all of its icons and items of beauty, a great deal of destruction and theft would likely take place.

      2. Dear Father,

        Thank you so much for this information. I frequent the SF Metropolis site and I am also a member of the Bay Area as well as Young Adult Annunciation Group on Facebook, but have never seen any advertisements for such concerts. I will definitely look into these resources.
        God bless you and may the Panayia be with you.

      3. After living in Germany for 6 years, it was sad to return to the states to churches that had to remain locked. My family visited Worms and liked going into a Lutheran Cathedral near “the Monument” in Worms. It was a grand experience to visit the Church Building of the main reformation denomination to see what they revered and get a feeling for the atmosphere.

        Alas, Europe is simply more orderly and respectful when it comes to such things. I wonder, given the current invasion, how much longer that will last.

  3. As a convert from the Word of Faith movement I came to Orthodoxy knowing God was leading me. I was worried about missing out on the “miraculous.” I read The Mountain of Silence by Markides. I realized Orthodox Spirituality was alive and well.

  4. I took a long, circuitous route to Orthodoxy which included my first steps in pre-Vatican II Roman Catholicism and the last step being non-denominational (aka Pentecostal) Christianity in Oral Roberts Tradition. One of the things that I found helpful in gaining perspective was the book In Peace Let Us Pray to the Lord by Fr. Alexis (Trader).

    1. With all due respect, Reader Thomas, Trader’s book is the absolutely WORST book on the Pentecostal-Charismatic movement. The book is filled with inaccuracies and mean-spirited characterizations. In a recent conversation with the Monk Alexey, he now regrets having written the book.

  5. I really resonate with this. I came from a Church that was heavily influenced (spiritually and geographically) by Bethel. I got pretty involved but it was beginning to question things about it (especially many of the happenings at Bethel). It was at that time that my Church invited various priests and pastors from different denominations. I had never heard of Orthodoxy before. And from there I kept digging and am now baptized into Orthodoxy. It did answer many questions that I had. I was denominationally challenged for so long, and I thought being Charismatic had the answers. But nothing has answered all my questions like Orthodoxy has. (Also, here is the professionally done video of the local, and now retired priest they used to introduce Orthodoxy to the charismatic church:

  6. Seriously……
    Who is a pentecostal or who is an orthodox….didn’t we all gave names and sect to all…..
    In bible i have surely read about pentecostals in new testament…
    So believers of that time and this time who experienced God’s touch other than being in religion understood that they are not experiencing God because of religion rather its because of God himself and people’s desire for a GOD
    They are hence called as pentecost…..
    I do believe religion and groups are made by people themselves to make them recognized.

    I believe in pentecostals because I experienced God’s presence and people who really longs for God and give God his required throne in their life,they dont follow religions or rules ,They follow God themselves

    God,Jesus and Holy Spirit is far far far more above than religion.

  7. There is a great deal of difference between the US charismatic movements e.g Word of Faith and the British Pentecostal and charismatic movements such as Elim, Assemblies of God or Newfrontiers and New Wine. The British ones appear to be much stronger in biblical preaching of the old evangelical kind; book by book expository preaching of the Bible is a mark of Newfrontiers, which is probably the largest of the new charismatic denominations/movements in the UK. There has been a falling away from the knowledge of good doctrine in these new churches but this is being addressed by some, the New Wine movement (which is largely Anglican) for example has opened the Westminster Theological Centre for the training and teaching of their ministers. My own pastor (I attend an independent charismatic congregation) has recently finished a course in Old Testament studies and patristics; the principal of the college recently released a paper on the term ‘head’ in the New Testament that widely referenced Chrysostom. As regards miracles we seek them because Paul tells us to earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, because we see that our Lord ministered by them and commanded the apostles to ‘heal the sick and cast out demons’ and that a study of early church history reveals they were in common use in those times. Michael Green’s ‘Evangelism in the Early Church’ is a foundational study of this matter for us. We are fully aware that not all manifestations are of the Holy Spirit and therefore seek to discern the spirits, weigh the prophetic and do all things in decency and order without quenching the Holy Spirit. It is often the pentecostal/charismatic churches that are at the forefront of social initiatives such as foodbanks, street pastors and homelessness projects and are also active in inter-church groupings such as Churches Together; indeed, the current President of Churches Together in Britain and Ireland also leads one of the larger new charismatic movements in the UK. On the whole I would say we are open to fruitful and fraternal links with other churches and a coming together in spirit if not in structure.

    1. FWIW, Word-Faith is a minority movement among US Pentecostals, despite their visibility via the media. My sense is that most in the Pentecostal movement in the US are still getting expository preaching like you describe. Charismatics among the mainline denominations are still largely following those ecclesial cultures.

      This isn’t what distinguishes Pentecostals, though, but rather the belief in the historical event of a second Pentecost, usually dated to around the turn of the twentieth century, leading to a particular interpretation of gifts of the Holy Spirit.

  8. You give me much to ponder. Your work will be necessary to my analysis of Quakerism where I am finding that what George Fox found in 1652 and what Robert Barclay articulated in 1670, 1672, 1674, 1675… 1686, was nothing more than the Theosis of the Orthodox church. Barclay’s battle had been with the dissenting Protestants, and the Papists as he called them. What he actually discovered was the theosis of Eastern Orthodoxy! Your work will be an aid in revealing the later short comings of Quakerism which does not have the undergirding of the historic church. Denominationalism is a byproduct of the Protestant trio (scripture, faith and grace alone) at the diminishing of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit. The unending splits in the Pentecostal, Reformed and Holiness traditions (39,000 is one count) is reason enough to say that their is a weakness in the Protestant expression. I’ve been on a path as a person centered on the new dispensation of Pentecost (sending of the Spirit and the law of the Spirit written on the heart) right into the heart of the historic church Orthodox. I’m thankful for groups like http://www.eighthdayinstitute.org and http://www.jbu.edu/paradosis that are bringing the best in scholarship to bear on the questions plaguing the church historic Orthodox, Catholic and Evangelical/Protestant. I will have to get your book to see how you deal with the Word of God Incarnate, the Word of God written and the Word of God living… and how Christology and Pneumatology are one with the Fatherhood of the One God. Any reflections in the meantime would be helpful. Humbly and gratefully.

    1. Many of the denominations in the US are the result of the frontier, or a movement arising simultaneously in several different regions. The Cumberland Presbyterian Church is a good example of the first when it was thought the Presbyterians needed better governance than they were getting from Presbyterians on the Atlantic coast. The several Classical Pentecostal Denominations rose separately at almost the same time. The eastern exceptions are The Church of God, Cleveland, Tenn. and The International Pentecostal Holiness Church (IPHC). The Church of God became Pentecostal after it was already established because of influences from the IPHC. The Church of God in Christ (CoGIC) came about because of segregation. The CoGIC is mainly black. The Assemblies of God, along with the CoGIC, is a result of Asuza Street revival, and the Foresquare Church rose up because of a cult of personality around Amee Semple Macpherson.

  9. I was raised in a Pentecostal church and am now Orthodox. Ever since the time of my inquiries into Orthodoxy I have wondered if Acts 10:44-48 could be applied to Pentecostal believers who have received the gift of the Holy Spirit, whom Peter declared should be baptized.

  10. “The appeal of Pentecostalism in all its forms is that it speaks directly to the real pain and suffering of people, to their need for healing and contact with God. While I do not believe that its methods and peculiar beliefs are the best way to do this (and in some cases are counterproductive), even the acknowledgement of this need in people is powerful and compelling. Orthodoxy, when truly lived, also sees the pain of mankind and offers true consolation and hope for resurrection.”

    Amen. As a former A/G Pentecostal (raised Methodist), this is my conviction as well from experience. I never went so far as to embrace the “Word of Faith” movement, but I know those who did. Orthodoxy fulfills what is highest and best in charismatic and Pentecostal longings and intuitions. I trust your updated book will help many more to make that joyful discovery.

  11. Based on what I have seen in charismatic ministries and among my Pentecostal friends, it seems to me that the “spirituality” many (if not most) of them seek is the antithesis of Orthodox (and biblical) spirituality. So many charismatics seem to be addicted to feelings. They go to meetings to get worked up emotionally, and they conflate those intense feelings with the Holy Spirit. I believe this is very dangerous. Orthodoxy engages the senses, but it seems to me that the Orthodox understand spirituality differently, as is evident from Orthodox teachings on asceticism. I fear that my Pentecostal friends may be deceiving themselves by confusing intense emotion with spirituality and true worship. There is nothing wrong with expressing emotion in worship — God gifted us with emotions — but achieving an ecstatic state should never be the goal of a worship service.

  12. What makes orthodoxy attractive is not people arguing about “being right”, but its approach of offering the brightest rays of God’s light while acknowledging where others have light and truth as well, and then leading them to more light. We should affirm before we deny, love before we anathematize. There is such a thing as being “dead right “.

    1. Amen. I have found the Orthodox Church after being Pentecostal Holiness. I am trying to find ways to explain to my friends about my decision. It’s not about them being wrong and me being right or me condemning them. I have to communicate this with the love of Christ.

    1. With love!

      But if you are looking for arguments against modalism, of course they have all been made long ago. The Oneness Pentecostal may well have heard of them and simply regards his interpretation of the Scripture to be correct. So this requires first addressing higher-order questions of what the Church is, what Scripture is, etc.

      That said, the best way to approach anyone is, of course, with love. People are much more likely to be drawn into Orthodoxy if someone they know and respect is part of it.

  13. Hi. I just found this article on a post on Facebook. As a person who is leaving Pentecostal Holiness and looking to become a part of the Orthodox Church, I would love to have a link for the podcast series that you did on this. It would help greatly for me to be able to learn to communicate with my Pentecostal friends the differences between their beliefs and what I have found to be true. I was beginning to doubt GOD and be angry with Him. Finding the Orthodox Church has cleared up so much of that for me and I would love to share this with people. I just don’t know hardly anything and I am soaking up so much. It is so wonderful to be excited about GOD again and to really begin to love Him. I really do not have the words to explain it that will do it justice. Thank you and GOD bless you.

  14. fFather Andrew. I am totally blind as well and wonder if an of the liturgies are available online or in Braille? also, I live in an area not close to an orthodox church where I can prayerfully check it out. Also, for those new converts, how does one get past confessing your sins to a priest, isn’t that too personal and private a thing to go paling to your priest? Please excuse these questions, I am merely trying to understand orthodox beliefs and I pray none takes this as cricizing.Father: why do orthodox christians believe in visiting the graves of the saints and having them pray for us? Isn’t that communicating with the dead and if they can pray for us, why then do we need living saints/ I am insuring out of a genuine interest in orthodoxy, rather than criticizing it. The idea of talking to a dead saint to me feels a little unnerving.

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