As reflective Pentecostals, we have many concerns about the progress of the movement. We know how much it is growing in the world. We know how many marvelous stories and testimonies we can find in our churches, but also we know about the abuse of power. We know about the general rejection of theology; we know about the unconscious politicization. So when we put all that stuff in balance, we have two options: leave or remain. I have to be honest. I left, a few years ago. Disappointed. Sad.
I couldn’t understand how God was working among people who despise to know him. It took me some years to understand that God works wherever he wants. And also, that the rejection of an intellectual knowledge doesn’t mean rejection of other kinds of knowledge. Then I realized how lost I was. I tried — wrongly — to use all the tools I acquired studying, but I forgot that theology is not merely an intellectual discipline, but a way of life. That is the meaning it had for the first Christians. In other words, I discovered that not only my brothers were unconscious about themselves — so was I. Because I hadn’t understand the core of Pentecostalism.
If we take off all cultural elements of our Pentecostal churches, then we will discover whats the center of the message. What motivated our first brothers. They didn’t want to open a “new” church. They just wanted to return to the old one. The same desire of Luther, Wesley, and so many others in the history. In their own way, they wanted to recover a lost heritage, buried under strict orthodoxy — which I love — and under despising liberal illustrated theology.
This heritage, the immovable certainty that God not only did a miracle in the virgin Mary or through the resurrection, but also that he can continue working miraculously today, was the core belief of our brothers. And this strong belief was also the motor for a renewed desire to serve the people. When I realized that the core was no other than glorifying Christ, then I understood that the problem was Pentecostalism, not Pentecostal Christianity.
What´s the difference between Pentecostalism and Pentecostal Christianity? My thesis is that Pentecostal Christianity is captive of Pentecostalism. If today we see Pentecostal churches falling down in many theological errors, preaching garbage like the prosperity gospel, demonizing the poor, preferring institutional and corrupted politics in spite of serving society, that is because Pentecostals have forgotten that before being Pentecostals, they are Christians. When we lose the Christian core, then Pentecostalism becomes what we see today.
But when we return to our Christian heritage and remember that we are not the “most greatest movement” of the world, but just another way in which God has decided to show his mercy to our world, then we understand that we need to be historically humble. That’s why what we criticize is Pentecostalism, and not Pentecostal Christianity. And that’s why I would propose to use this conceptual differentiation from now. I don’t want to be just Pentecostal anymore. I want to be Christian Pentecostal. I will continue criticizing Pentecostalism because it has to be more Christian again. And this generation is called to do that criticism, not with rage, but with a heart filled of the love of God.
When Pentecostals become more aware of their Christian heritage, when Christ stops being only the name we pronounce to ask God for some human desire of our fallen heart, when we realize how powerful is to really live a life of piety and service; then we will see a restored movement. Then the world will start to rely again on us as servants of God. I have a real hope that there is a rising generation of Pentecostals that don’t want to leave their churches, that truly believe in the transforming power of God, that are disposed to serve the world with honesty and love. And that is not to be Pentecostal, that is to be Christian in a church that tries to practice the gifts of the Spirit transforming realities. That is to be Christian Pentecostal. This is my hope: we are in time for a new Christian Pentecostal movement among Pentecostal churches.
Luis Aranguiz Kahn is editor for PCPJ.
Pentecostals & Charismatics for Peace & Justice is a multicultural, gender inclusive, and ecumenical organization that promotes peace, justice, and reconciliation work among Pentecostal and Charismatic Christians around the world. If you like what we do, please join our Facebook forum, and sign up for our newsletter!