Toward a Pentecostal Ecclesiology

I see two ways that Quakers and the larger church can move forward in the tension of unity and diversity: liberal deconstructionism or Pentecostal ecclesiology. While both are useful and both claim to be prophetic, I am becoming convinced that a new Pentecost is the only vital way forward. To reclaim Pentecost is to reclaim Quakerism, since our tradition was born as a charismatic community. By Pentecostal I do not mean “charismania,” complete with televangelists and holy rollers. I mean an experience of God’s Spirit that gathers a diverse people together, arranges the community according to the inspired gifts of every person, and sends them out in empowered mission. A Pentecostal ecclesiology is a way of arranging our meetings and churches in anticipation of the Spirit’s continued presence and guidance among us.

This was the experience of the early Church according to the book of Acts, when the divine promise was recalled: “I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy…” (Joel 2:28) And Peter expanded the list: men and women, young and old, servants and slaves. Then the narrative of Acts kept widening the circle: Greeks and Jews, widows and philosophers, eunuchs and strangers. The wind of God was releasing God’s people from their cultural and religious bondage and gathering a prophetic community, diverse and united.

This was also the experience of early Friends. George Fox dared to ask “You will say ‘Christ says this and the apostles say this’; but what can you say?” Implicit in his question is the conviction that the Spirit was at work among the community, and each could speak with authority “as the Spirit enabled.” And speak they did. They spoke from silence and stillness, where the power of Pentecost baptized their hearts in love and moved them into concerns of compassion. Women, told to be silent, were given tongues of fire to speak truth to power. Men, told to be dominant, spoke tenderly about “that of God in every person.” Slaves found freedom, soldiers found peace, the poor found justice.

The Church, including many Friends communities, now divides in debate over homosexuality. I hear debate about biblical interpretation and application. I hear arguments about biology, psychology, and sociology. But one “ology” we often forget is pneumatology, the study of the Spirit. The real questions are questions of pneumatology: is the Spirit’s fruit evident in the lives of our gay and lesbian Friends? Is the Spirit calling and anointing them for ministry and inspiring their prophetic voice? Is the Spirit bringing together gay and lesbian couples for marriage? As the Pentecostal wind blows through our communities, are they not being blown with us into new lands of ministry and mission?

As an Evangelical Friend, my journey toward inclusion of God’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender children required a long time of wrestling. Like us all, I am still on a pilgrimage of discernment. But the deepest arguments for me were not arguments at all, but testimonies of Pentecost. They were the testimonies of Spirit heard in the stories of gay and lesbian Christians and the way the Spirit is giving them a voice and utterance among the beloved community. The testimony was also heard in an inner Pentecost of “dreams and visions” that mysteriously widened my heart and mind. I should not be surprised when the Spirit widens the circle, however, since that is the movement of Pentecost. God’s intention is firm and faithful: “I will pour out My Spirit on all people.”

1 thought on “Toward a Pentecostal Ecclesiology

  1. A classic statement of the way that ‘Evangelicals’ turn into liberals. The appeal to experience over the clear testimony of the bible is the route that many are following, having long since done the same to ignore the command of Jesus that divorcees should not remarry. ‘But God is blessing their new relationship’. So Jesus didn’t mean what he said? Paul was wrong to describe it as a ‘command’.

    At the core of George Fox’s dynamism was a demand for the church to demonstrate that the Spirit was with them – but also a submission to the bible as revealing what God had said in the past; Margaret Fell’s attempt to reject the clear teaching of scripture over the role of women demonstrates, if nothing else, that at least she engaged with scripture. Over the years Quakerism has shifted to seeing ‘the inward light’ as the real source of authority – able to judge what God has said in the past as WRONG. The sheer arrogance of the cultural imperialism that this points to, claiming that we know God better than those amongst whom He walked, would be unbelievable in any other environment (is’nt post-modernism fun!).

    And no, for the record I am not a married person wanting to deny others the blessings of marriage that I enjoy.

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