Gusty Winds, or a Jet Stream?
Charismatics and Orthodox on the Spirit of Tradition
Copyright 1999, Telford Work
Draft: Do not cite without the author's permission.
They are the stuff of theological legend: Thousands of American evangelicals who grew up firmly within the evangelical subculture, whose spiritual quests led them from Wheaton College, Campus Crusade for Christ, and Oral Roberts University into new ecclesial lives in Eastern Orthodoxy. These converts have bucked another persistent tide, of Orthodox Christians migrating to evangelical Protestantism (and heterodoxy), even in historically Orthodox cultures. The "man-bites-dog" quality of both stories has shocked those left behind, and perplexed would-be triumphalists of both camps. What do these migrations say about our traditions?
While part of the answer certainly lies in cultural pride and shame in both traditions, my claim today is that pneumatology helps explain the attraction each tradition holds for some members of the other. Rather than analyzing evangelicalism in general, I will concentrate on its charismatic and Pentecostal movements (using the terms charismatic and Pentecostal interchangeably). First I will describe Orthodoxy's and Pentecostalism's common insights into the Holy Spirit's relationship with tradition, then explore their differences, in order to appreciate what each perspective has to offer the other. I will rely on both liturgical texts and theologians: the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, the worship songs of Tommy Walker (who leads worship at my local church), Dimutru Staniloae, J. Rodman Williams, and Lesslie Newbigin.
Continuity and Dynamism in Orthodox and Charismatic Liturgy
Both charismatic Protestants and Eastern Orthodox deeply appreciate that it is the Holy Spirit who gives life to the body of Christ. Furthermore, both appreciate elements of both continuity and dynamism in the Spirit's presence. Nevertheless, each tradition has its own favorite language for the Spirit's work. The Anaphora of the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom speaks of the Spirit as both an abiding presence, and an event of epiclesis: "O Lord, who sent down Thy Most Holy Spirit upon Thine apostles at the third hour, take Him not from us, O Good One, but renew Him in us who pray to Thee. ... Send down Thy Holy Spirit upon us and upon these gifts here offered." Pentecostals too speak of the Spirit's permanent presence, as the baptism of the Holy Spirit, a baptism both of the community as a whole and of its individual members: "Holy Spirit, we celebrate your life in us." Pentecostals also speak of epiclesis, but call it revival, a fresh outpouring of the Spirit onto the Spirit-filled community to bring it back into the original experience of Pentecost: "Holy Spirit, come now, come be with us; set us free, bring liberty as we offer up our hearts to Thee" ("Holy Spirit Song," Tommy Walker, 1991).
"Baptism" and "revival" name Pentecostalism's sense of the continuous and ever-new gift of the Holy Spirit. I am less qualified to name the Orthodox counterparts, but I suspect that both senses come together in the one word "tradition." Capitalized, it emphasizes the Gospel handed down and amplified over the years of the Church's experience of God's indwelling Spirit. It is the Church's once-for-all "baptism" into the divine life. In lower-case, it emphasizes the dynamic, pneumatic handing down of the Gospel once and for all delivered to Jesus' disciples. It is the "revival" of the Church's experience of God's descending Spirit.
Our traditions experience the Spirit's presence most deeply in our liturgies. In my Church's corporate worship, Christ comes so near that we sing of Jesus' sweet presence taking us "to a higher place, where we can see his face" ("Sweet Presence of Jesus," Tommy Walker, 1994). Orthodox Christians draw equally near in their daily and weekly communion of saints, surrounded by its clouds of iconic witnesses and lifted up to the heavenly image of Christ Pantocrator. The similarities are too profound to be coincidental. I believe they reflect the common presence of Christ and the common power of his Holy Spirit when we gather in adoration.
Nevertheless, for all their commonalities, our liturgies are remarkably different. The incense, kyries, and the bloodless sacrifice of the East, and the amplifiers, tongues, and raised hands in my local church, appreciate the old and the new of our one Lord's powerful presence in very different ways. Two theologians will help me explain.
Orthodox Tradition: Continuity and Deepening
Dimutru Staniloae, a Romanian Orthodox, claims that "the revealed Christ remains and goes on working within creation" through three concrete means: the Church, sacred Scripture, and holy tradition.1 Through these three dynamic forms of tradition, the Spirit transmits Jesus, embodying him in the Church and witnessing to him in the world. Yet he never reveals anything new, for "supernatural revelation came to its close in Christ" (37). Thus the newness of the Church's pneumatic experience of God can be nothing more than "the continuous deepening and unfolding of the [objectively unchanged] content of Scripture" (49). Tradition is at once a closed-ended, once-for-all charisma and an open-ended, dynamic epiclesis. It mediates the community's continuity with its Lord and its own past and future.
For Staniloae, the Church has become the community of the Holy Spirit. There the revelation of Jesus Christ has been "perfected."2 It is finished because divine revelation culminated in the earthly ministry of the incarnate Son and the complete outpouring of the Holy Spirit (57). The Church's experience of God deepens over time, but it cannot exceed this foundation. The Church is charismatic yet conservative, because all it has is a gift it has had from the beginning. In Orthodoxy we see a "Johannine" Church -- a body of Christ best described in the perfect tense.3 So Orthodox pray in the Divine Liturgy for God to "preserve the fullness of Thy Church" (emphasis added).
Holy Tradition works so seamlessly that Staniloae does not need even to ask the question of what to do when Scripture and Tradition conflict. They simply do not. Misinterpretations of Scripture are not Holy Tradition, by definition. They are the "human traditions" of Mark 7 that the Spirit-indwelt community of Christ cannot receive. It must reject them, just as the ecumenical councils rejected the classical heresies.
Even the Church's corporate deepening of God's revelation is now complete in a sense. It got its real start at Pentecost, and reached theological and practical maturity at the Second Council of Nicea in 787, an event remembered as "the Triumph of Orthodoxy." Subsequent Orthodox history, even the Great Schism of 1054 that effectively ended the very possibility of further ecumenical councils, are footnotes to Orthodoxy's first millennium.
Pentecostal Tradition: Revolution and Renewal
In Pentecostalism, the big date is not 787, 1054, nor even 1517, but 1906 the year of the Azusa Street Revival. That year, Azusa Street Mission worshipers experienced an outpouring of God's pneumatic presence with an intensity that drove them all the way back to Pentecost for an analogy. In this tradition, we see not pilgrims on the way towards a perfect-tense Church (as we do in Ware's The Orthodox Way), but a "Lukan" Church that is still living the book of Acts. It is itself on the Way to fullness, and constantly in danger of sliding back into its former ways. It is becoming the community of the Holy Spirit. It is, in a word, a Holiness Church.
J. Rodman Williams, a charismatic Presbyterian, describes our era as a moment of
dynamic movement of the Holy Spirit for renewal [in Protestantism and Roman Catholicism]. What is happening can only be described as the resurgence within the forms and structures of Christendom of the vitality of the early Christian community. It is an extraordinary renewal through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. ...
[God] may have seemed absent, distant, even nonexistent to many of us before, but now His presence is vividly manifest. Suddenly, God is here not in the sense of a vague omnipresence but of a compelling presence. ... It is as if, after many years of now and then sensing His presence (but always in a fleeting fashion), the full reality has broken through!"4
This experience is not an ever-deepening present remembrance of Pentecost, but always a "looking forward from the Biblical record," says Williams. "We do not expect the days and years ahead to be but repetition of the past or the present, for we live under the Word that `greater works' than even our Lord did are to be expected" (17). Pentecost is in a sense an event "yet to occur"; the pouring out of the Spirit has not simply already taken place (55). Nevertheless, the present echoes that original moment:
When the Spirit of God begins to move upon and within the spirit of man, it is like a driving wind blowing through every fiber of the human personality, like a blazing fire igniting the speech of man to proclaim God's deeds abroad. It is Acts 1 and 2 all over again! It is, to be sure, a different cast, a different scene, a different millennium ... but visited by the same power that broke out in the primitive Christian community (18).
Pentecostals would never put it this way, but their fundamental conviction that Pentecost happened again in the twentieth century, that "this is that" (Acts 2:16),5 is itself a vision of Holy Tradition. The Spirit identifies Israelites in the time of Joel, Jews gathered in Jerusalem at the first Christian Pentecost, and Azusa Street worshipers. This identification is as powerful a process of tradition as classical apostolic succession. It hands over the identity of the people of God to whoever receives the promise of the Spirit, whenever and wherever they may be. So the same affirmations we may make of Orthodoxy we can make of Pentecostalism: tradition is Spirit's connecting work, and Tradition is the pneumatic community it effects across space and time. The Holy Spirit merges "this" and "that," first century and twentieth, and builds them into the one eschatological Christian community. His descent collapses time and distance, burning the biblical past and prophetic future into his disciples' lives.
Like other charismatics, Williams affirms the Spirit's prior abiding presence in the community (118). Yet the Spirit's overpowering advents create a painful awareness of the inadequacies of Christian life between advents. This places Pentecostal ecclesiology in stark contrast to the ecclesiological idealism common in Orthodoxy. Williams claims the Pentecostal revival exposed "serious need in the Church serious inner weakness evidenced by sharp factionalism, confusion about purpose, and slight impact upon the world" (37). Revival took the Reformed doctrines of sanctification, sacramental presence, and assurance Williams inherited, and "made them operational" (44-46).
Here too, both traditions describe a dialectic of continuity and newness. But each tradition favors one pole. Staniloae appreciates the newness in terms of continuity: Pentecost's mighty wind is a jet stream in Orthodoxy that constantly deepens the Church's experience of Christ. Williams appreciates the continuity in terms of newness: Here the mighty wind buffets charismatic Christianity in powerful gusts that never quite subside.
These differences are not necessarily a problem. What is a problem is that at times, each tradition's favoritism crushes the dialectic. The results are what C. FitzSimons Allison calls "orthodoxy as idolatry,"6 and what John MacArthur calls "charismatic chaos."
A fresh look at Pentecost, which is the inaugurating event for both traditions, can help restore the dialectic. Yet each tradition already interprets it according to its favorite pole! Catherine Aslanoff's commentary on the Orthodox icon of Pentecost notes that the image has the apostles lined up in two neat rows, forming "the apostolic college."7 They are an orderly and rational bunch, verging on boring. The icon is a world away from the impression we get in Acts 2, where the scene looks like anarchy to scoffing onlookers (v. 13).
What about charismatic Christianity? While I have not seen a Pentecostal icon of Pentecost, I can imagine it: Fires rage; the quivering bodies of the "slain" litter Jerusalem.
Here our dialectic of newness and continuity is one of spontaneity and order, and again our traditions have taken sides and sometimes gone to extremes. The Orthodox icon domesticates the Spirit, turning Pentecost into C-SPAN. Yet onlookers thought the apostles were drunk! On the other hand, Pentecostals turn the Spirit into a circus freak, and Pentecost into "Jerry Springer." The scene gets bigger, louder, flashier, and more violent, until the Acts 2 account begins to look rather tame.
The biblical Pentecost is neither of these caricatures. It is a violent outpouring that brings communion, a drunken bedlam that resolves into an elegantly structured sermon. In Jerusalem, Corinth, Constantinople, and Los Angeles, the Spirit's work is powerful, but it brings edification. It is violent, but it brings harmony. It can look like drunkenness, but it brings "favor with all the people" (v. 47, cf. 1 Cor. 14:23-25).
Each tradition, in its own way, understands this. The icon contends (with Peter) that Pentecost's apparent anarchy is "not really so" (v. 15). And the fruit of Pentecost, a community of disciples ordered perfectly, proves them both right: "All who believed were together and had all things in common" (v. 44). Pentecostals too see in their seemingly chaotic scene a deeply edifying movement of the Spirit. Both traditions see Pentecost through eyes of faith, offering images for the discerning. They receive surprisingly compatible visions of God's revolutionary peace.
Pentecost brings a new and continually renewed order. Its violent peacemaking repeats itself as the Church sojourns. The Church of Acts 2 experiences a setback in Acts 5, an ethnic crisis resolved in Acts 6, persecution in Acts 7, a "Samaritan Pentecost" in Acts 8, and so on. Peter's Pentecostal "this is that" points not only back to the days of Joel, but forward to Judea, Samaria, Nicea, Azusa Street, and beyond.
The Spirit's revolutionary newness goes beyond the developments of both the Patristic Age and the Reformation Era in its fidelity to Holy Tradition. Lesslie Newbigin, no anarchist, still affirms the "dangerously revolutionary implications" of the Spirit's freedom of action in the world. The Spirit "is free and sovereign, able to work in ways that demand rethinking of our traditional categories."8 Nevertheless, the Spirit's freedom never undermines or displaces the work of the Father and the Son, and the Spirit "gives to the Church the necessary gifts by which He may be known" (e.g., 1 Cor. 12:10).
This has both conservative and radical consequences. For instance, liturgical reform and theological ressourcement, are refreshing both charismatic and traditional Protestantism, transforming practices sapped by centuries of modernity. Likewise, the full participation of women in all the Church's ministries is a movement of the Holy Spirit that began among the Church's radicals, and is increasingly being embraced in magisterial quarters. In a sense it is primitivist, as feminist readings of Rom. 16 show. Yet in another sense it goes beyond mere primitivism to embrace a pneumatic innovation. And in still another sense it is deeply traditional, following the unpredictable but consistent trajectory begun at Pentecost.
Where Do the Winds Blow?
Rather than endorsing either Pentecostalism or Orthodoxy absolutely over the other, my pneumatology narrates them as partly overlapping, partly complementary, partly incompatible appreciations of both the antiquity and the newness of the Spirit's work. Because of the poured-out Spirit's abiding presence in the people of God, tradition is constructive, deepening and edifying the one, holy, catholic, apostolic Church of Jesus Christ as God prepares it for its eternal destiny. So charismatics are right to be attracted to high-church traditions like Eastern Orthodoxy. They offer resources evangelicalism relatively lacks for appreciating the sacramental presence of God, the history of the Spirit-indwelt community of saints, the power of apophatic theology and other mystical practices, and the centrality and richness of worship. On the other hand, because of the revolutionary character of the Kingdom of God, tradition is destructive, destroying all things that oppose the Spirit's work -- even the old wineskins of obsolete Church practices! So Orthodox are right to be attracted to low-church evangelical traditions. They offer resources Orthodoxy relatively lacks for appreciating the variety of authentic verbal, musical, political, and iconic expressions of orthodox faith, the Spirit's power to transcend both cultural differences and ecclesiological boundaries, the necessity and power of personal conversion and renewal, and the shortcomings of the Church.
There is room in this dialectic for both Orthodoxy's appreciation of tradition and Pentecostal Christianity's appreciation of newness. However, there is no room for the smug self-sufficiency of either of these traditions when they assert "we have no need of you," or "because you are not a hand, you have no part in the body." Our Christian communities both possess and need each other's resources. God is not calling Orthodox Christians simply to become evangelicals, or evangelical Christians simply to become Orthodox, but calling both of us to repent and reappropriate God's gifts to the whole Church.
Our traditions possess common resources that prepare members in each tradition to appreciate the other. Both have tended to affirm "One True Church" subsisting in particular communities. Both appreciate the primitive "New Testament Church" as the norm of authentic ecclesiology. Both distrust Roman Catholicism and liberalism. Both criticize the supposedly weak pneumatology of Augustinian Trinitarianism. So those who switch traditions are right to continue to appreciate the traditions they have left, for awakening their desires for richer Christian lives and sending them along the road to their new homes.
Yet, despite what our partisans claim, neither community possesses the fullness of the other. To the extent that we have remained open to each other, at least provisionally (here we are, after all, in the same room), we have opened ourselves to mutual enrichment and correction. If there is room within the canon for both "Johannine" and "Lukan" visions of the Church, then the Church's catholicity presupposes a degree of political, theological, and hermeneutical diversity that resembles in some way the diversity of our two traditions.
Unfortunately, we have rarely respected even the canonical shape of that diversity. Charismatic Protestants have tended to forget that we are children of a revolution that did not begin on Azusa Street, or even at the Wittemburg door. We are heirs of a tradition of creative destruction that has bequeathed upon us twenty rich centuries of pneumatic history. Eastern Orthodox have tended to forget that they are children of a revolution that has never stopped being revolutionary. They are heirs of a holy tradition of destructive creation that has not only pruned the world and grafted into the Church, but has pruned the Church. We have embodied our forgetfulness in mutually exclusive practices that deny each other's legitimacy and resist each other's fundamental correction, and therefore jeopardize our own legitimacy.
My argument merely restates Lesslie Newbigin's brilliant plea in The Household of God that the Protestant, Catholic, and Pentecostal traditions are wrong in denying the validity of each others' claims, and that their mutual exclusivity has led each to a model of the Church "which can be identified by purely natural standards and categories" (103).
Each body is compelled to regard what it holds as of the esse of the Church. Yet no body can admit that what others hold apart from it, is of the esse of the Church, for that would destroy its own claim to be the Church. We are drawn to one another by a real working of the Holy Spirit which we dare not resist, but we are prevented from accepting one another as Churches by loyalty to the very truth upon which our existence as Churches seems to stand (123).
Of course, the canon does not prescribe communities from preferring one canonical vision over others -- John over Luke, so to speak -- so long as we remain open to legitimate alternatives. Pentecost's wind yields catholicity, not homogeneity. Disciples need Roman Catholic creativity and stability, Orthodox continuity and analogical discipline, Protestant humility, and evangelical and radical respect for Scripture's power to critique, renew, create, and reform. Orthodoxy offers Pentecostalism an additional way to appreciate the Holy Spirit's work in terms of the eschatological "already": The logical consequence of the Holy Spirit's presence is the rich pneumatic history of Holy Tradition (2 Th. 2:15). Pentecostalism offers Orthodoxy an additional way to appreciate his work in terms of the eschatological "not yet": The logical consequence of the Holy Spirit's revolutionary interventions in the past (Acts 10:44) is unpredictable further unfoldings and reversals of the continuing Christian revolution.
The Church has rarely if ever attained more than a shadow of such a life-giving synthesis. When our appreciation of any of these aspects of the Spirit's work overshadows others, as it typically has, we destroy the pneumatic dialectic that maintains and revives the Church. We fracture the delicate unity of Christ's maturing body. Sanctification turns to sin, edification to schism, communion into a drunken brawl. The lesson from the migratory behavior of our people is not that one tradition is simply true and another simply false, but that a divided Church that forces them to choose between one or another aspect of the Spirit's work inevitably fails us all.
2 Cf. Staniloae, 57-58 (emphasis added): "The Holy Spirit continues the revelation of Christ in this direction through the act of bringing the Church into existence and through the practical organization of her structures, that is, through the initial putting of them into practice. It is the same Spirit who afterwards maintains the Church as a permanent milieu for the effective power of revelation once this has been brought to a close in Christ, or rather perfected as both content and way of being put into practice."
3 Crucial statements about the Church are rendered in the perfect tense in the Fourth Gospel (e.g., 3:18-19, 5:24, 17:22). But the tendency is pronounced throughout the Gospel. The Nestle-Aland 27th edition counts 53 perfect verbs in Matthew, 48 in Mark, 61 in Luke, and 205 in John.
4 J. Rodman Williams, The Era of the Spirit (Plainfield, NJ: Logos International), 9-10. For a similar perspective from within formal Pentecostalism, see Stanley M. Horton, ed., Systematic Theology: A Pentecostal Perspective (Springfield, MO: Logion), 35.