Martyred for the Gospel

Martyred for the Gospel
The burning of Tharchbishop of Cant. D. Tho. Cranmer in the town dich at Oxford, with his hand first thrust into the fyre, wherwith he subscribed before. [Click on the picture to see Cranmer's last words.]

Collect of the Day

The Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany.
The Collect.

O LORD, we beseech thee to keep thy Church and household continually in thy true religion; that they who do lean only upon the hope of thy heavenly grace may evermore be defended by thy mighty power; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Daily Bible Verse

Monday, September 26, 2005

Response to Footnote 55 in Paul Elbert's Paper

Professor Elbert wrote this in footnote 55 of his paper:

55. For those in the Charismatic Renewal not wedded to the supposed connection between cessationism and enscripturation, a pneumatological ecclesiology (une ecclésiologie pneumatologique), correcting the presumptuous sacramental insistence of automatic divine action, would be beneficial. In my judgement, the sovereignty of the Holy Spirit is ill-considered in assuming that sacraments are automatically an ecclesial means of grace, clerically transmitted if ministers are Spirit-filled, as does Yves Congar, ‘Pneumatologie dogmatique’, in Bernard Lauret and François Refoulé (eds.), Initiation à la pratique de la théologie (4 vols.; Paris: Editions du Cerf, 2nd edn, 1982) II, pp. 485-516 (496).

My comments are in blue here. It seems to me that the allusion is being made that sacramentalists all hold to some form of sacerdotalism. This is patently false for Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians, and those Anglicans who are Reformed and Protestant. The Anglican Articles of Religion clearly denies any inseparable association between the outward signs and the invisible graces conveyed, though the outward sign does mark in most cases the transfer of inward graces by God's sovereignty. Baptism, for most sacramentalists, does not guarantee regeneration, excepting the Lutheran position. And even the Lutherans allow for apostasy.

I might also mention that Pentecostal scholar Frank Macchia, of Southeastern College of the Assemblies of God, has acknowledged that for Pentecostals the outward sign of speaking tongues functions as a sacramental giving of the inward grace of Spirit baptism, much like the Methodist/Anglican view of outward sign/inward grace sacraments of baptism and holy communion. (See: Macchia, Frank D. "Tongues as a Sign: Towards a Sacramental Interpretation of Pentecostal Experience." 1992).

However, Congar’s critical efforts toward a pneumatological ecclesiology
are to be applauded; cf. Isaac Kizhakkeparampil, The Invocation of the Holy Spirit as Constitutive of the Sacraments according to Yves Congar (Rome: Gregorian University Press, 1995). The pursuit of a flexible ecclesiology, stressing the freedom of the Spirit, is unharmonious with a tightly constrained sacramental mindset and has little difficulty in describing contemporary New Testament experience with New Testament language.

It is the triumphalistic and uncharitable representation of more conservative views within Evangelicalism that has caused troubles for the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement. Some charismatics are indeed sacramentalists and so were most of the Wesleyan-holiness believers who preceded and then became part of the initial Pentecostal revival. In fact, sacramentalism is not what causes objections to Pentecostal theology. Rather the objections stem from the extrabiblical "revelations" and questionable practices within Pentecostalism. Such objections are made by Evangelicals who are not sacramentalists as well as by those who are sacramentalists. So I have to wonder what sacramental theology has to do with the issue at all?

On the other hand, James I. Packer’s claim that charismatic experience cannot be described with New Testament language, and is therefore ‘deeply unbiblical’, may be challenged and corrected as well; cf. my ‘The Charismatic Movement in the Church of England: An Overview’, Pneuma: Journal of the Society for Pentecostal Studies 6.1 (1984), pp. 28-33.

The ad hoc nature of many of the popular Pentecostal theologies, i.e. Benny Hinn's idea that the Trinity was actually 9 persons since each of the 3 persons was a trinity within, is just one example where Pentecostals do not want to be accountable to Holy Scripture and go well beyond what Scripture explicitly teaches. This being said, the professional scholars of the Pentecostal movement have done little more than to make triumphalistic assertions that their doctrine is not contradicted by Scripture. Arguments from silence are most always weak.

Packer, undeterred, in a lecture at Rutherford House, Edinburgh,
entitled ‘Charismatic Christianity and Biblical Theology’, Rutherford House Tape 103 (dated 1989/1990), fails even to surface the possibility that Calvin’s arbitrary confinement of the Lukan gift of the Holy Spirit at Acts 2.38, 39 to an artificially devised epoch is quite openly not biblical theology, a point highly germane to his topic.

Here we see highly inflammatory language, rather than an irenic tone used to characterize the Reformed position. Calvin is "'arbitrary' in confining the... gift of the Holy Spirit.... to an 'artificially devised' epoch...." Calvin is hardly arbitrary in anything he has written in his body of work, nor is the epoch "artificially devised" since even Pentecostal scholars like Ronald Kydd acknowledge that the sign gifts virtually died out after the third century [See: Ronald Kydd, Charismatic Gifts in the Early Church, (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1984).

Perhaps this is not surprising since in this lecture he never refers to the narrative theology of Luke–Acts, bypassing Luke–Acts totally, while continuing to mischaracterize the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement as a bogus restoration of ‘sign-gifts’.

This is a red herring since the topic addressed had nothing to do with narrative or rhetorical criticism of the texts--of course Packer did not mention it. I hardly think J. I. Packer would have been so forthright as to call the Charismatic movement "bogus." However, he seems to have a valid point that the so-called "restoration" of sign-gifts are grounded more in the phenomenological experiences of individual Pentecostals and Charismatics than in Holy Scripture itself. It has rightly been said that Pentecostals seek to justify personal experience by reading it back into the text.

According to Packer any second work of grace (that is, any certain experience viewed from the natural perspective of suspicion) cannot then stem from doctrine nor be described by well-fitting New Testament texts, new prophetic revelation is non-existent, supposed ‘sign-gifts’ are not restored even though the movement’s ‘theological roots’ supposedly lie therein (a patently false claim), and everything is satisfactorily explainable via Rom. 8.16 and Jn 14.21-23.

Again, we have inflammatory language. J.I. Packer is characterized as viewing things from a "natural perspective of suspicion." This smacks of gnosticism. After all, Packer could not possibly know what he is talking about since he is operating out of the "natural" realm or "natural" man. This is Pentecostal code for "I am spiritual and you are not spiritual." "New prophetic revelation" is completely unnecessary for the Scriptures are sufficient for our salvation. On this point it seems that Pentecostals once again side with the Roman Catholic tradition. Holy Scripture is somehow deficient or insufficient and needs supplemental revelation.

I find it odd that Elbert would deny that Pentecostal roots are not in sign gifts when the first incident sparking off the movement was speaking in tongues as an outward sign of being baptized in the Holy Spirit. Also, Packer rightly points out that the text itself mentions no such thing as a second work of grace. This is merely inferred from the text and that because Pentecostals desperately need to find some sort of biblical justification. It is odd that the only precedent for such a second work of grace in church history is the sacrament of confirmation and this despite numerous Pentecostal scholars acknowledging that fact. Pentecostals seem to pick and choose when they will accept sacramentalism and when they will not.

It does seem odd, however, that a Christocentric global movement should
develop within a century into a major sector of world Christendom with such scant biblical credentials.

Numbers do not prove the veracity of an argument. This could be due to the fact that most of the spread of Pentecostalism is in third world countries that still have a pre-scientific worldview. We might call such a worldview "superstitious" here in the United States. While that can aid in spreading supernatural views of Christianity, the downside is that much that is unbiblical is spread along with it. Harvey Cox has noted that Korean ancestor worship persists among Korean Pentecostals, shamanism in Africa, and so on. Even here in the U.S. heterodoxy and even heresy is prominent in the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement.

In any case, as Packer well knows, the movement he is discussing did
not and is not advancing along these lines, perhaps a bothersome fact best ignored, similar to how a circular sun and a circular moon were ignored in flat-earth theology based on the four corners passage (Rev. 7.1).

I am not sure what that means. I hardly think J. I. Packer would deliberately deceive anyone. Obviously, Packer thinks his assessment is right. If not, then he would not be credible as a scholar. I was a Pentecostal for over 10 years and was educated in a Pentecostal college. I have read a good bit of formal Pentecostal/Charismatic scholarship as well as observing Pentecostal practice firsthand. Personally, I think the criticisms leveled at the movement are highly accurate for the most part. It would do well for Pentecostals to stop "reacting" against criticism and to provide a proactive hermeneutic that can be rationally justified.

I for one am unimpressed with appeals to mystical experience like the two Professor Elbert related in his paper (see pages 194-196). That is more properly a part of Pentecostal worship and has no place in an academic paper. I find the topic itself is highly prejudiced and really not a research topic at all.

It is obvious that the seminary which employs Professor Elbert also publishes the theological journal in which this article appeared. This sort of subjectivity and partiality in an academic journal only undercuts its credibility at large. In short, preaching to the choir convinces the choir and no one else.

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