Monday, June 12, 2017

Why Should Pentecostals Become Orthodox Christians

I love these observations from The Very Rev. Archpriest Andrew Stephen Damick, pastor of St. Paul Orthodox Church of Emmaus, Pennsylvania.

I am . . . interested in how Pentecostals may come to find a home in Orthodoxy. In some ways, Pentecostals and Holiness believers may approach the Orthodox Church quite differently from mainstream Protestants and Evangelicals. Those more in touch with their Holiness roots will not find in Orthodoxy the moralism of their founders, but may nevertheless appreciate our ascetical emphasis on purity. Those who especially focus on healing from God may connect with our theology of salvation as a healing process. The highly interactive character of Pentecostal services may make the back-and-forth rhythms of liturgy more accessible. Some may be attracted by our sense that everyone has a "personal Pentecost" when he is chrismated, that that first Pentecost never truly ended. And Pentecostals who thrill at the stories of famous faith healers and fiery preachers will no doubt have their heads set spinning at the stories of the lives of the saints.

On a deeper level, I believe that one of the things that Pentecostals share with the Orthodox is a lack of fear of materiality when it comes to the spiritual life--something that distinguishes them from most Evangelicals and other Protestants, who tend to shun this as idolatry. The Orthodox believe that holiness can reside in physical things, including our own bodies, and so do Pentecostals. We may not engage in "grave soaking," [a practice among some Charismatic Christians in which a person will lie or kneel on a departed saint's grave in order to obtain his or her "mantle" as the prophet Elisha received from Elijah] but we certainly do like to visit the graves of saints and ask for their prayers. And we do have the sense that physical touch can be an important part of our connection with the saints. Our dedication to physical beauty and love for the mystical experience of worship with all five senses may be for a Pentecostal seeker a fulfillment of all his long hopes.

The appeal of Pentecostalism in all its forms is that it speaks directly to the real pain and suffering of people, to their need for healing and contact with God. While I do not believe that its methods and peculiar beliefs are the best way to do this (and in some cases are counterproductive), even the acknowledgement of this need in people is powerful and compelling. Orthodoxy, when truly lived, also sees the pain of mankind and offers true consolation and hope for resurrection.

While the Orthodox do not seek for God with the pursuit of ecstasy and the constant expectation of miracles, we do believe that He touches us directly in the holy sacraments. And I believe that it is this experience of the very touch of God that may appeal most to Pentecostals and bring them home into Orthodoxy.

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting observations, Joe! I had a very close friend, now deceased, who went from being a Pentecostal pastor in West Virginia to becoming an orthodox priest in Georgia, and he expressed some of the same sentiments as does Father Stephen Damick. The compulsion for immediacy with the spirit world, which is one of the driving forces of Pentecostalism, eventually wears itself out for the more discerning when they discover that human emotion is not in itself a sign of the Holy Spirit. They begin to yearn for something deeper, more profound and more connected to their Christian forebears. Orthodoxy provides one avenue to this depth. Any group of Christians that survived the dark days of communist atheism in the old Soviet Union and emerged on the other side intact must have something very substantial that undergirds them! Similarly, in my teaching stints over the past several years in Europe, I have encountered several Copts who, in spite of the upheaval in Egypt, are vibrant in their faith despite severe persecution. These precious brothers and sisters in Christ are a clear testimony to the enduring faithfulness that can come only through a genuine work of the Spirit. Though I was once a Pentecostal who now am an evangelical Anglican, I consider it a privilege to embrace the Orthodox as part of my spiritual family and Christian heritage. St. Paul said that God's foundation stands firm, and the Lord knows who belongs to him. To this reflection of the great Apostle, I am compelled to say the "Amen" with joy!