The PAOC’s Identity Crisis (Part 5 of 6)

Let’s continue our look at the MPS Papers. Just a reminder, the stated intent of these papers is to “provoke thought and discussion”, not to layout the PAOC’s official position on these matters.

Paper no. 5 was written by Jim Lucas, the president of Canadian Pentecostal Seminary. The last line of the document reads, “For a Denominational Leaders Day at Trinity Western University,” so we’re looking at a speech more than an academic work. Here we go:

Paper #5:
The Ethos of Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada Churches: Spirit and Power
by Jim Lucas

Lucas, like many people, have trouble finding one unifying way to describe Pentecostals. Aside from 1) a common Statement of Fundamental and Essential Truths, 2) a nation wide set of credentialing criteria, and 3) a joint mission program, we’re free as individual congregations to follow the Spirit wherever he may lead. In spite of this, Lucas describes some common threads in our shared experience which we’ll look at below.

  1. Here are some of the areas where we’re different:
    1. Our style of worship
    2. Our style of preaching
    3. Our programs
  2. Here are some of our similarities:
    1. Mission: We focus on the infilling of the Spirit to empower us for mission.
    2. Spirit-Baptism & Tongues: We talk about wanting more of the Spirit, but we really mean he wants more obedience from us.
    3. Urgency: The immanent parousia makes us frown on leadership structures and educational programs that take too much time to made produce results—the time is short! This is another reason why so much authority is placed on individual pastors (we presumably don’t have time to waste networking on a national level).
    4. Acceptance: A mark of the Azusa Street revival was the acceptance of any race or creed on the common ground of Spirit-baptism. A tension grew out of this since our holiness roots make acceptance of others difficult at times.
    5. Luke over Paul: We emphasize Spirit-empowerment for witness “rather than the Apostle Paul’s emphasis on the more soteriological dimensions of the life of faith” (3).

Let me break in here with some thoughts of my own.

  1. Point 2e above was so shocking to me, I quoted Lucas directly. After taking some time to process the statement, I can that his description is correct. Many of us stress Spirit-empowerment over the ongoing nature of salvation. How can this be? It’s one thing to play Luke off against Paul and cozy up to one stream of Spirit-inspired writing over another, but is that really what we’re saying? When we concede this point, we’re emphasizing Jesus’ ascended sending of his Spirit “rather than” the ongoing effects of his death and resurrection! To compare the sending of the Spirit with the death of Christ isn’t to compare apples and oranges—more like fern-seeds and elephants! Perhaps our understanding of salvation has contributed to this. Most people I know view “personal” salvation as something that happened in their past, so it’s no wonder we emphasize something we can experience now. Perhaps we should recover Paul’s language of “being saved”, and understand the gift of the Spirit as part of that process.
  2. I think Lucas’ views are a little too idealistic. His thrice-repeated refrain, “at our best,” demonstrates this. Here’s an example: “While Pentecostals talk about wanting more of the Spirit . . . when you catch us at our best, we understand that what we really mean is that He wants more of us. We must pour ourselves out. In other words, more obedience.” Well, that’s a good way of theologizing the issue, but when I hear people talk about “wanting more of the Spirit”, it invariably means a desire for a heightened emotional experience inside a church building. Again, Lucas is right: at our best, we would seek to be more obedient—I just haven’t seen us “at our best” very often. Digital Aura, in his response to the third post in this series reminded me of the disconnect between Seminary-style theologizing and on-the-ground praxis. If we want to discover our identity, we need to take a more serious look at life on the ground.
  3. One last item. Lucas concludes by saying, “If you catch us at our best we will be seeking the empowerment of the Holy Spirit to reach the world for Christ.” I completely disagree. If you catch us at our best we will be reaching the world for Christ, trusting the empowerment of the Spirit as we go. Think of the parable of the good Samaritan. Do you know why we Pentecostals are not on the road with the Priest, the Levite, and the Samaritan? We were still waiting in Jerusalem to be empowered for the trip.

< Paper #4: Defining Pentecostal Identity – Differences between Charismatics and Classical Pentecostals by William Sloos

Paper #6: There is No Spoon by J. Martini >

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