Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The Pentecostals

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.


EYTYXOC said...

For some interesting opinions of this article and about Pentecostalism, read the combox (comments box) responses to the NYTimes piece in Rod Dreher's beliefnet post on the subject here (Rod is a recent convert to Orthodoxy from Roman Catholicism, and attends St. Seraphim in Dallas):
There are at present 74 comments/responses. I contributed a few as "Eric W".

John said...

I haven't visited Rod's site in a few days, and did not realize he had already posted on this subject. And the comments are certainly interesting (though I have learned to steer clear of all conversations involving She-of-the-smiley-face!)

EYTYXOC said...

Yes, smiley-face "d" still posts there. She and I are on good terms, though, as I try to be with most people. I don't know if that will last if/when I become Orthodox, but since I'm not converting from Catholicism, it shouldn't be an issue, as long as we don't debate Orthodox/Catholic issues, and I don't intend to do that.

The Ochlophobist posted something interesting yesterday
the divide
about deciding between Orthodoxy and Catholicism (see lengthy excerpt below). I just started Schmemann's Journals, and already my highlighter is flying pretty quickly.

Berdyaev, and George Steiner (who stole this idea from Berdyaev) after him taught us that we each must choose between Tolstoy or Dostoevsky, which is, it goes without saying, true. I sometimes wonder if we should not propose to the person who scratches his head wondering whether Orthodoxy or Catholicism is the right path, after having read some of the pertinent literature, that there is a similar contemporary choice. With the Berdyaev/Steiner choice the choice was not really a choice between persons but rather a choice between different understandings of human life. The choice I propose is that of two different understandings of human/ecclesiological life. I suggest that the choice is between Fr. Richard John Neuhaus and Fr. Alexander Schmemann. Both embody their respective ecclesiologies in America. Both reflect(ed) on the world at large, both engage(d) the theological arts. RJN is the consummate American neo-Cath. Fr. Schmemann is iconic of the best of American Orthodoxy, even if he was by accident of history an émigré, as the ancestors of most of us accidentally were. Each man is/was a great writer and thinker. They were friends (if you have not already read it, you must read RJN's tribute Alexander Schmemann: A Man in Full). You are well served to read as much of both of them as you are able, but in order to give each their fair hearing at the very least read RJN's Catholic Matters along with his section of each FT titled "The Public Square" especially the last subsection, "While We're At It." If you do not subscribe to FT find a library with back issues. Then, in contrast to RJN read The Journals of Father Alexander Schmemann, 1973-1983, which is the most important religious journal of the 20th Century, along with one or two of Fr. Schmemann's liturgical/theological works, such as The Eucharist: Sacrament of the Kingdom, or For the Life of the World: Sacraments and Orthodoxy. One will get the sense that we have before us two very different religious visions. Choose between them.