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What Meaneth This? A Question for 21st Century Pentecostalism

 

While disdaining Philip Pullman’s blatant anti-Catholic and anti-Christian rhetoric in his fictional trilogy of His Dark Materials, I’ll have to admit that his observations about the nearness of the “other” that can be cut through with “the subtle knife,” reminds me of the power of the “sword of the Spirit” (Hebrews 4:12).8 Perhaps the interplay between “Spirit and Sword (Word)” has much more opportunity than we tend to imagine.

Regardless of what else Peter had in mind, have you noticed that his eschatology moved not to the linear but to the nearness of God through the Holy Spirit “upon all flesh?” This kind of eschatology means that God is so near that we can hear Him. He speaks to us and will speak through anyone who will be available as His mouthpiece. Look at the communication emphasis: men and women will prophesy, generations will share visions and dreams, social stratification will be overcome by prophesy. It’s a picture of the Word of the Lord filling the earth. It’s not an eschaton of fear and escape; it’s an eschaton filled with life and hope. Prophesy, visions, dreams, all point to one thing: God has a future for His creation! It’s the language of hope! That’s why New Testament prophesy is about edification, exhortation, and comfort (1 Corinthians 14:3).

We need an urgent sense of being in the last days.

That’s why the impact upon creation is so important. It’s the power of words, the Word, to manifest itself in wonders and signs in the natural realm. That’s why I believe Pentecostalism should be right at home in post-modernity. The ordered, stale, predictable, boring world of modernity is coming to its appropriate end. Pentecostalism can say to this world that change need not be feared but invited; change is evidence of redemption; change means that God is still speaking to us and shaping His future in our present.

One hundred years ago Pentecostalism had its opportunity to transform the United States cultural landscape. Today that opportunity is upon us again but now the landscape is international. Of all Christian groups, it seems that Pentecostals should be able to navigate in, among, and through all the various tribes that comprise Christendom and the cultural matrix of our times. Of all tribes, Pentecostals should be able to navigate through the Spirit’s “cross-winds,” the ways the Holy Spirit operates in what are to us paradoxes and points of tension.

“What Meaneth This?” will be answered by many streams in the coming years. The answer(s) will come from small town congregations, mega-churches, denominational leaders, para-church ministries, and emerging international Pentecostal/charismatic ministries.

Peter’s eschatology moved not to the linear but to the nearness of God through the Holy Spirit upon all flesh.

But I also believe the answer will come, and perhaps should come most forcefully, from Pentecostal colleges, universities, graduate schools, and seminaries. My conviction differs from that of critics such as C. Peter Wagner, who argue that seminary education is not an effective preparation for ministry in the modern world.9 I truly believe the “Pentecostal academy” should take on the prophetic role of shaping the 21st Century answer to “What meaneth this?” It should not occur isolated from the larger Pentecostal church family. But for the season the Holy Spirit gives you to educate the emerging leaders of the future, He also asks you to disciple them, to prepare them, to release them for the world they will inherit and shape. The “Pentecostal Academy” must have the Spirit of prophecy active in its core values and practice in order for personal, ecclesiastical and cultural transformation to incubate and come to maturity.

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Category: Living the Faith, Summer 2008

About the Author: A. Doug Beacham, Jr., D.Min. (Union Presbyterian Seminary), is the General Superintendent of the International Pentecostal Holiness Church (IPHC Ministries). Twitter: @DougBeacham. LinkedIn. Facebook.

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