Can You Only Follow Jesus to the Altar if you Speak in Tongues?
Terry Todd’s understanding of the Pentecostal altar as “the space where Pentecostals learn what it means to follow Jesus through encountering the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit” reminds me of what Lutherans and other Protestants mean by the Priesthood of All Believers. In every space and occasion of life, we Christians have opportunities to serve Jesus and experience the Spirit. Martin Luther claimed that the services we offer in the vocations of life are acts of devotion and worship (The Large Catechism, I.Con.). Maids milking cows or hired hands hoeing fields can offer acts of service to God, he contended (Luther’s Works, Vol.3, p.321)! I love the phrase which older, now deceased colleagues have taught me was common in the 19th-century Black church: “Ain’t no difference ‘tween prayin’ and ploughin’.” Prof. Todd, are we on the same page with these commitments?
If the answer to the preceding question is in the affirmative, then the next question is the one found in the title of this response. I am already aware of the rich theological diversity in the Pentecostal tradition (as I teach at a school instructing students for ministry in the Church of God in Christ). I have read you, Prof Todd, to be more in line with Two-Step Pentecostal thinking rather than a Three-Step Holiness Pentecostal orientation. Thus if you can indicate your perspective in responding to the questions which follow and perhaps even offer responses from the perspective of someone else in Pentecostalism operating with a Holiness perspective, it would be most helpful for the overall dialogue among us all.
In my own discussion of Lutheranism and in my private correspondence with you, Terry, I have tried to highlight the too-often overlooked emphasis on the Holy Spirit in my tradition. Luther claims that the Holy Spirit is involved in all aspects of following Jesus (The Small Catechism, II.6). The Spirit’ s role in the exercise of faith is also endorsed in all the major Protestant denominational traditions (The Thirty-Nine Articles, 10; [Methodist] Articles of Religion, 8; The Westminster Confession, 8; Southern Baptist Convention, Statement of Faith, IV). Can a Pentecostal then concede that these traditions have the Holy Spirit and in principle at least their heritages can teach it in Biblically authentic ways?
Insofar as Neurobiological research indicates that in religious experience our sense of space and time, sense of self, is somewhat suspended as the parietal lobe of the brain is de-activated, it follows that all Christian experience has an ecstatic character, not unlike the Pentecostal experiences you describe (Andrew Newberg et al, “The measurement of religion cerebral blood flow during glossolalia: A preliminary SPECT study,“ Psychiatry: Research Neuroimaging ) This experience is further highlighted in Lutheranism and much Mysticism by the construal of faith as intimacy with Jesus, for intimacy in its culminating stages is always ecstatic in character (Luther’s Works, Vol.31, pp.351ff.).
If on the basis of this data you can grant that all the faithful are following Jesus to the altar, filled with the Spirit, then can you grant with your Episcopal and UCC roots (along with mine) the prevenience of grace, that coming to the altar and faith are works of the Holy Spirit? When you yield to Jesus your body and soul, is that the Spirit’s work too? If Pentecostals cannot make this step, I fear that fellowship as Christians (though not human and social engagement) is not possible from my end (or from the viewpoint of Protestantism, Catholicism, and perhaps not from the side of the Eastern heritage).
The next question is whether actually speaking in tongues is necessary in order to follow Jesus to the altar. I belong to a branch of Lutheranism which now allows for speaking in tongues as legitimate. (The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod and its sister churches do not allow for tongues in their congregations in deference to Luther’s original fear that the Pentecostals he knew were Montanists, failing to test the Spirit [Luther’s Works, Vol.40, pp.83,90].) But Charismatics are still expected to test the Spirit and not contend that one must speak in tongues or that enjoying the Pentecostal experience makes one a better Christian (Paul Opsahl, ed. The Holy Spirit in the Life of the Church). Are those stipulations agreeable from a Pentecostal point of view? If so, then we have begun to establish grounds for church fellowship. If these stipulations are not agreeable, why not?
When you experience the Spirit or ecstasy with no tongues, but instead in outward emotional experience (like some segments of the Black church), or with quiet emotions like a feeling of intense love or tears of joy and sadness, or with an inward sense of freedom and happiness like the Lutheran Pietist in me does, or with a stolid firmer conviction of and commitment to one’s duty, are those less authentic or impoverished experiences of the Spirit? If so, in what way do these experiences of faith give us less than the Pentecostal versions?
I can see that one might conclude that the experiences of faith I have been describing seem less wholistic than the Pentecostal experiences you, Professor Todd, describe, for you stress how the whole body is involved in coming to the altar. I too want a faith which involves the whole body. I am working on evolving a fresh understanding of religion and Christian faith in particular as dance. Research undertaken by historian William McNeill (Keeping Together in Time, esp. p.2) and Psychologist Matt Rossano (Supernatural Selection: How Religion Evolved, esp. pp.144-145) indicates that common movement or dance builds community and enhances the sense of social responsibility we both want faith to offer. And of course when you are dancing intensely (even with prescribed steps), it is an ecstatic experience in which you lose yourself.
You describe certain Pentecostal rituals like raising arms, heads tilted toward heaven, weeping, and moaning. Why not consider liturgical worship in the Eastern, Catholic, Episcopal, and Lutheran traditions as dance too? (Even Methodists, Baptists, and most segments of the Black church as well Mormons operate with some liturgical structures.) Standing, sitting, and kneeling, bowing heads and singing are all part of the dance. If we taught them that way in these traditions, then would it not follow that no less than characteristic Pentecostal experiences, these exercises too could be equally valid experiences of physically following Jesus to the altar of life and worship?
If these non-Pentecostal expressions of faith still fall short from a Pentecostal perspective, help me and all of us understand how and why they fall short? I close by addressing your references to your commitment to rejecting demonization of sexual minorities and the possibility of a new Pentecost. On the latter issue, Lutherans endorse along with Bishop Flunder a Realized Eschatology which challenges status quo (The Small Catechism, III.2 ).
Regarding the former issue, I am not sure that any tradition represented in our conversations is guilty in principle of demonizing sexual minorities, and yet it remains valid to discuss whether homosexuality is in tension with Christian faith and in the best interests of society. I’ve become convinced by Neurobiological research, that homosexuality is natural. Gays and lesbians have brain configurations that differ from straights (I. Savic and P. Lindstrom, “PET and MRI show differences in cerebral asymmetry and functional connectivity between homo and heterosexual subjects,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 105(27), 9403–9408.). What I am trying to sort out is whether everything that is natural in our fallen world is God’s Will and whether in view of the Human Genome Project and its findings that we are the products of both genetics and society (National Human Genome Research Institute, “About Studying the Environmental Impact”, July 24, 2012), it follows that the normalizing of homosexuality is in the best interests of homo sapiens’ evolution. Please read me carefully at this point. I am not implying that homosexuality is a choice. But the Human Genome Project implies that culture seems to play a role in influencing the actualization of genetic sexual dispositions. Church and society need further “respectful conversation” on this data and its implications, and I wager we agree that such conversations have not been happening. Want to try doing it together? I’ll bet we could have some constructive Christian fun.
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