Wednesday, January 17, 2007
One of the more interesting articles in yesterdays’ NYTimes was A Sliver of a Storefront, A Faith on the Rise, the first in a 3-part story on the growth of Pentecostalism. The Times article targets a small storefront church in New York City, the Pentecostal Church Ark of Salvation for the New Millennium.
Though Pentecostalism, a strain of evangelical Christianity, was born a century ago in Kansas and is often associated with the stereotypical “holy rollers” of the Bible Belt, it has made deep inroads in Asia and Africa. In this hemisphere, its numbers and growth are strongest among Latinos in the United States and in Latin America, where it is eroding the traditional dominance of the Roman Catholic Church.
Experts believe there are roughly 400 million Pentecostals worldwide, and this year, the number in the city is expected to surpass 850,000 — about one in every 10 New Yorkers, one-third of them Hispanic. Precise numbers, however, are hard to come by because there are scores of denominations and no central governing body.
Here, in cramped storefronts like Ark of Salvation, people whose lives are as marginal as their neighborhoods discover a joyful intimacy often lacking in big churches. They find help — with the rent, child care or finding a job. As immigrants, they find their own language and music, as well as the acceptance and recognition that often elude them on the outside.
They find the discipline and drive to make a hard life livable.
This phenomenon intrigues me, as it is totally outside of my experience. My background was in the opposite direction (not with liturgical churches, certainly), but with a Protestant church that was heavy on reason, logic, and biblical exegesis and very light on emotion. And given such a background, I suppose I was as condescending and dismissive of the Pentecostals as the next guy. All that is in the past now, and I try to look at them in a new light, realizing that their worship may have been more pleasing to God than mine had been. That being said, I am now even farther removed from that approach and still maintain that they do not have the theological “legs” to stand for the long haul. Looking across nearly 2,000 years of Christian history, Pentecostalism is just a recent blip on the screen, and is not a new heresy, but rather a re-casting of old, familiar ones. But, the Pentecostal movement is vibrant and sweeping the Third World, perhaps the most significant factor in contemporary Christendom. Something is definitely going on here.
Barnabas Powell, a former Pentecostal and now Orthodox, hosts an excellent blog, Sober Joy. Beginning back on November 9th, he posted a 4 part series on Pentecostalism. Powell contends that the movement's growth "is a result of a theological poverty in Western Christianity." Citing this trend in both Catholicism and Protestantism, he believes it propelled a counter-reaction in the birth of the various Holiness movements, what he calls "the poor man's mysticism and...a clear cry for intimacy with God." For someone like myself--unversed in the specifics of Pentecostalism--Powell's series offers an excellent insight. See here, here, here and here.