The Reformation Era in Pentecostalism

On October 13, 2010 Pentecostal pastor Samuel Lee posted 15 Theses from his home in Amsterdam that have the potential to transform the global Pentecostal movement.  That may sound like a bold statement – but it is a true one as these 15 Theses lay open the Pentecostal movement as Martin Luther’s 95 Theses did to the Roman Catholic Church all those years ago.

I pray with my whole heart that the Pentecostal movement will humbly accept these Theses and work towards reforming their movement as the greater Church NEEDS their input and passion. I pray this as one who, while currently not within Pentecostal movement per say, grew up within Pentecostalism (my family tree is covered with Pentecostal pastors and leaders) and has a love for the greater body of Jesus regardless of doctrines, styles or labels.

[Below is a brief summary of Samuel Lee’s full paper – which I would HIGHLY recommend reading as he gives a lot more detail on each of these 15 Theses]

Reforming Pentecostalism

1. Emotionalism versus Balance

Pentecostalism should direct her followers into a deeper understanding of the Word that involves experiencing the Christian faith and church in a broader framework of knowledge. The Pentecostal movement lacks essential knowledge on how to practice faith in a more balanced way and in understanding the Word in a wider context relating to the global society. The Pentecostal movement indeed does offer her own theology on exegesis (interpreting the Bible) and practical matters on individual levels, but we give less attention to essential global and societal matters. We have thousands of books written about prosperity and how to get blessed, or how to become rich in order to have villa’s and private jets for the ministry, yet far more than half of the Christians in these ministries are red in their bank accounts, suffering in poverty not only in the developing world but also in the so called “First World”.

2. Demand to perform versus being yourself

Secondly, there is an over emphasis on performance, numbers and prestige. Let me explain: it is no more about souls, but about numbers….In this Reformation of Pentecostalism, however, we should not focus on numbers but on the fellowship of the human spirit with God, the breaking of the bread and drinking the wine which is the sign of the new covenant!

Lately, I have the impression, as a professing and preaching Christian, there is a demand for me to perform! To perform miracles, to perform in order for people fall on the floor, to perform a prophesy etc. I am tired of this “demanding me to perform”. The Post Modern man needs a new kind of Pentecostal leadership, the kind of ministers who are honest and just. We do not have to perform but be honest in pouring out our hearts, and in speaking about our weakness and confessing them to one another!

3. Exaggeration versus Honesty

Thirdly, we as Pentecostal people have to be very critical of our ministries. We often exaggerate in numbers of people, in healing testimonies etc. I urge you to trust me that more than you, I believe in miracles like healing etc. In my own ministry, I have experienced people being healed from serious illnesses. However, I also have to be honest that out of 1000 people that I prayed for only a handful got healed. Maybe in the meetings, it seems like they are healed but on the way home many of them still have their illnesses. A handful people getting healed does not make me in any way a less Spirit-filled minister, and secondly, I do not have to advertise that God will heal or healed ‘all’, while many others are not. And so as a Pentecostal minister I have to find a balanced approach. I also have to understand and teach that it is not me who heals but Christ as He pleases! Who checks among us who is healed? Is there not an objective entity that can check the healings that actually took place?

4. Living Idols versus Jesus

Fourthly, the success stories in the “performance ministry” with the combination of Christian media have created an elite group of Christian leaders – the nouveau rich leaders….. Gradually, they begin to smell power and give in to lust which results in loosing their financial/ sexual integrity and, at the end, lose their marriages. Tragic scandals.

Further, the nouveau riche leaders become a so-called idols for many average and common leaders and people. In place of taking Christ as the absolute measurement of life, people imitate these superstars! Since many cannot be superstars, just like many housewives cannot be Naomi Campbell, they end up in frustration. Many leaders cannot perform to be like these superstar Christian leaders.

5. Titles versus Ethics

I hope that unlike what the Pentecostal Movement has become lately, the reformation in Pentecostalism will focus not only on to getting people to heaven but also teach them how to practice some principles of heaven here on earth. That the Pentecost Church should tackle the issues of righteousness, societal justice, animal justice, planet care in place of preaching doom and gloom messages and how the end time will look like!

Fifth, we have to seriously deal with the issue of Christian titles such as: Apostle, Prophet, Evangelist, Pastor, Teacher, Bishop, Reverend and etcetera in the Pentecostal and Charismatic movement.  I am under the impression that we choose these titles superficially and treat them lightly, while it is the Lord who appoints these titles! Let us take the worldly titles such as PhDs, MDs, DMDs.  These titles must not be used unauthorized or else the persons who maliciously use these titles will be apprehended for plagiarism.  It is legally prohibited to call ourselves a lawyer or a dentist when we’re not.  However, one can readily get a Pastor’s title and more often than not, the urge to have additional titles becomes great whereby it becomes so hilarious and silly.  We can see examples in many Charismatic / Pentecostal print ads where people use huge spaces to indicate their titles such as Reverend, Doctor, Evangelist, End time Prophet and lately, the Apostle is even added!

I believe in titles that are ordained by God, but nowadays we are exaggerating in titles.  An old Persian proverb says: “a good perfume does not need an advertisement” This is one of the reasons why the people of the world often do not take the Christians seriously: our titles have turned to be cheap and empty.

6.  Miraculous versus Science

I believe with all my heart that the Pentecostal movement is in dire need of a solid and strong biblical foundation and world-view! Our education is often simple.  We try to answer tough questions with simple and superficial answers!

The leaders, especially in the developing world where the Pentecostalism movement rapidly grows, do not have substantial and proper educational training and even if it exists, these leaders focus more on spiritual matters, which is not bad because it is actually suitable to the Pentecost movement.  But the fact of the matter is that their knowledge about the current global situations is insufficient.  We know how to quote the bible from our head, but our apologetics fall very short.  Basic questions like: “why the Bible we read today is the way it is?” cannot be answered properly.  We have not much knowledge on Church history and denominations, more so, our current global crisis.  These should be, among others the subjects of discussion and research.

I believe the Pentecostal movement must reform the system of educating leaders, lay leaders and Christians in general.  Our education should be based in understanding science through biblical perspectives inspired and directed by the Holy Spirit.

What is happening however, is that we often hide behind the Holy Spirit and give a spiritual explanation to everything without testing it! Many times I have met Christians who are suffering from serious maladies; with much hope they attend to healing conferences, and after the healing minister have prayed for them, they believe by faith they are healed.  So, they refuse further examinations and stopped with their medications.  These lead to the stagnation of the sickness and death!

We are living in a complex world; the humanity of 2000 years ago is not the same as what we today’s.  Humanity is becoming more complex year after year. Having said that, we cannot just cook up quick answers to pressing questions and coat it with the Holy Spirit flavor on top.  The Pentecostal movement does not only need agents of miracles, revivalists, and anointed ministers, but it also needs scientists on fire for God who are willing to build bridges between science and Pentecostal movement.  I have to be honest with you, when I look at the scientists of various denominations especially from the traditional ones, I see that they have learned to build such bridges and dialogues.

7. Finance versus Integrity

There are lots of Pentecostal generous givers out there, but sadly, they themselves suffer financially…The easy usage of the credit cards cause people to end up in serious financial debts.  Emotional manipulation leads to merchandizing the Holy Spirit.  Worldly techniques are applied to accumulate money for the “ministry”.

There was once a pastor from Africa who conducted a conference to the migrants in Amsterdam.  In his conference, he started selling salt for thousands of Euros.  Just a small can of salt costs about 1,000 euros, and if the people did not have money they could buy a spoon of salt for 10 euros.  The promise was that once a person buys that salt and takes a bath with it, he or she would be debt-free within certain number of days.

I was in Ghana, Africa, and I saw that people are selling anointing oil and handkerchiefs for huge amounts of money. Those who buy these handkerchiefs can get visa miraculously to travel to Europe or to the USA.  Every handkerchief varied in price according to the visa of the nation.

The Pentecostal movement should come up with a sound, biblical and practical teachings on how to manage money, assets, properties so on and so forth.  We have to promote financial transparency.  Likewise, we have to be bold in speaking about financial ethics to leaders and ministers who exaggerate in spending money or having a luxurious lifestyle.

8. Ignorance versus Awareness

The caring for the marginalized in the society.  We are busy with miracles that are self-serving.  Miracles that are promoting and basically oriented to ourselves or to our ministry.  We strongly emphasize on signs and wonders, whereby we neglect the fruits of the Holy Spirit which are humility, love, forgiveness, among others.  We are too busy loving God that we forget to love our neighbors.  We forget that God is loved through loving our neighbors.  God is worshiped when we visit a sick, or someone in prison, or help a migrant! The Pentecostal movement should not only be active in over night prayer meetings and fasting, but the Pentecostal movement should act out the belief that God is found in loving and caring for people, and not only in words.

We not only need anointed preachers but also caring people like the late Martin Luther King and Mother Theresa, respectively, or like many unknown volunteers for Christ in organizations such as World Vision, Tear Fund who serves the Lord through another angle of the Gospel.

9. Exclusivity of the Holy Spirit versus Generosity

Ninth, the Pentecost movement should realize that we are not the only and exclusive children of God who can access the Holy Spirit.  We have to realize that we are part of the Body of Christ, and Christ does not have favorites.  The Holy Spirit is neither the exclusive trademark nor limited to our denomination! He can move anywhere and in any way He wants to move! Therefore, we have to repent from our Pentecostal arrogance and begin to love and accept other Christian denominations.  In fact, we can learn many things from them.

10. End times versus the Now!

Finally, the Pentecostal movement emphasizes too much about the end times and in such flashy way! Without a doubt, the Pentecostal movement is interested in getting people to heaven, but it should focus to the now as well.  We have to realize that the creation is eagerly waiting for the sons of God for redemption.  People are suffering now! The creation is suffering now! And God wants to use us as instruments of love, peace and reconciliation between man and God, and between nature and God!

But one thing which I can say with certainty is that, that no one knows the day nor the hour, but the Father.  And that I am sure Christ is coming back! But as to when and how, I do not know! Therefore until that day, or until the day I die, I do my best in fulfilling my calling and teaching the next generation to be the reformers of their times.  We have to keep on reforming; we have to examine our ways constantly.  We have to be the reformers of our times and once we have reformed the things that needed reformation, we have to begin reforming again and again and again.  So we have to keep on watching, keep on being critical, keep on reforming! This has to be a never-ending process! This should be the task of those who call themselves new kind of Pentecostals.

11. Relevant Church

As a Pentecostal pastor, I noticed that the Christianity in the West is on the edge of a great shift- a change or a transformation in its values and views. Traveling here and there and meeting people from various denominations, have brought me to this conclusion:  There is a group of people within the established church, and this includes the Pentecostal church, who are breaking through the four walls of their church structures and paradigms.

12. Open Information versus In Box Information

Whether the pastors or church leaders like it or not, people are being exposed to immense information and knowledge. They are beginning to see that there are other interpretations and other ways of practicing Christianity, not to mention the untold history of the Christian faith which  they less or never heard about.

As a Pentecostal pastor, I see the urge and the necessity of interacting with people by means of a digital dialogue i.e exchanging information and allowing people who are under my “care” to likewise know the other side of every story.

Unfortunately, the unhealthy prosperity teaching in the Pentecostal church created the elite group of “holywoodized” and “performance-oriented” leadership-structures causing the people and pastors to have less or even zero contact with each other. I choose to participate in forums and discussions and I refuse to be threatened by the new ideas or new interpretations at hand but dare to dialogue and discuss in the context of love and respect which Jesus taught us in the Bible. When I choose to do so, then I would not scare people away from the church but invite them to share their ideas with me at the table of brotherhood and “digitalhood”.

13. Asking questions versus lack of faith

We have to learn to ask hard and thought-provoking questions and to respectfully receive serious answers. In our circles, asking a question could almost mean “sinning” and “lacking faith”. We have to go back to history, science, re-think biblical interpretations or contemplate alternative denominational interpretations. We could deliberate, discuss and try to come to a broader understanding of the church, Jesus and Christianity.

14. Multi sided literature versus one sided literature

The thirteenth point I want to raise for discussion is that, reviews of literature among the Pentecostals believers is limited to handful subjects like the end- times, Holy Spirit, anointing, spiritual warfare, prosperity, tithing etc. Some of the books we read are from two ore three decades ago. On this note, may I suggest to my Pentecostal colleagues to endeavor and expand what is dictating our literature list. There exist very interesting and inspiring books outside our denominational parameters. Let us learn by reading how others reason and what they bring. You don’t have to agree with everything these books may say, but at least you are being updated and you know how and what your fellow human being thinks!

We as Christians have to be relevant to our societies and the world in which we live. We are all inter-linked and inter-connected. We are all parts of a bigger part and therefore, Christianity should and must be involved with social issues, environmental concerns, human rights matters so on and so forth.

15. Hope in Change versus Faith in Destruction

Lastly, the relevant church should never stop hoping, dreaming and fighting for justice and righteousness in the Name of Jesus in a world where love will always have the last word and not the differences that so divide and rule us. It’s about time to grow up. It’s time to be relevant! It’s time for reforming the Pentecostalism.

3 thoughts on “The Reformation Era in Pentecostalism”

  1. Thanks Josh… all relevant, but in particular I resonate with #15 because I am at heart an optimist, and so I believe King Jesus is sitting on His Throne until all His enemies become His footstool, and the Holy Spirit will continue to work to transform until the earth is filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.

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