jonathan stone's blog

. . . posts on faith and life

the end of pentecostal distinctives

I grew up with a lot of apocalyptic angst. I have swapped many entertaining stories with others who grew up with these same fears about the end of the world. Each story is unique in some way. Some things are always common. For example, one thing that is present in almost every story is the existence of a “litmus contact,” that faithful person one could call in order to make sure the rapture had not taken place.

Anyway, most of my fears about the end of the world were both misplaced and misguided. Nonetheless, this has not dispelled in me the general feeling and belief that we are currently living at “the end of the age.” I’m always surprised to find out that almost every evangelical Christian I have ever asked about this also has a general sense that these are the “last days.” The reason that surprises me is that, while most of us say we believe this, few of us live life in a way that shows that we believe it.

There are a lot of great sermons that could launch from this point. However, I want to mention one that is not likely to get preached on “Any Given Sunday.” It is quite popular among Pentecostal church leaders to talk about “Pentecostal Distinctives.” Pentecostal pastors might not talk about this with their parishoners (though many do), but many of them love to talk about it amongst themselves. Scripture paints a certain picture about what the end of the age will look like. If this picture is true, which I believe it is, then it tells us a lot about what we might expect in those days. One of the things that we probably should not expect is that God will be leading certain groups of Christians to figure out what are their distinctives from other groups of Christians.

Don’t get me wrong, distinctives are not always a bad thing. In certain lines of work, say for example the work of a Historical Theologian, drawing distincitves is a necessary, even important, aspect of his/her work. In certain eras (e.g. the development of proper Christology in the 4th & 5th centuries) drawing distinctives was a vital work of church leaders. Some of these broad distinctives, which help persons understand what should and should not be considered Christian, will not only continue until the end of the age, but will likely even grow in importance. But Pentecostals drawing Pentecostal Distinctives? I don’t think so.

We know what God’s ultimate will and purpose in history is: “He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him with a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth” (Eph 1:9-10, emphasis mine). Everything will be summed up in Christ. In the end every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (Phil 2:10-11). Every person will know without a doubt that only the Lamb of God is worthy of our worship (Rev 5:1-12). The movement of history will culminate with this revelation. We know that.

During the course of church history our Lord has allowed both the wheat and the tares to grow together. As we have neared the end of the age this has often led to confusion. However, at the end of the age the Lord will separate the wheat from the tares (see Matt 13:24-30). We can assume then that at the end of the age it will become increasingly clear which things are wheat and which things are tares. By wheat and tares we are talking about the distinctives between light & darkness, the Heavenly Kingdom & earthly kingdoms, those that are of Christ & those that are of the world, etc. When this happens it will no longer be time to ask what distinguishes Pentecostals from the rest of the body of Christ, but what distinguishes us as Christians from the rest of the world. The answer to the question of what distinguishes us as Christians from the world will be loud and clear: Christ.

Since I happen to believe that we are living near the end of the age I am beginning to think that it is time to put away the question of Pentecostal distinctives. Again, don’t get me wrong. I recognize that we as an organization have lost a sense of our identity, and thus a sense of our calling. I have written about my desire to see that recovered. But I think that our future, our calling, and our identity, if we are indeed living at the end of the age, is more likely to be found as we distinguish ourselves as disciples of Christ from the darkness in the world than from distinguishing ourselves as Pentecostals from the rest of the body of Christ.

What do you think?

13 comments on “the end of pentecostal distinctives

  1. Jenn
    March 6, 2008

    This comment really has nothing to do with your post, but more your ‘read this first’ and title. Did you attend Engage 21?

  2. The Futurist
    March 6, 2008

    Jenn, unfortunately I was not able to attend the Engage 21 conference. But I have heard a lot of feedback and most of it has been very positive. Were you able to go? What did you think? What connections were you making between the blog title and the conference?

    Thanks for stopping in!

  3. Jenn
    March 7, 2008

    I didn’t get to go, but I know a few people that attended, and a few blogging pastors who attended as well. I’ve only heard really positive things, mostly along the lines of enlightenment to leadership.

  4. The Futurist
    March 7, 2008

    Jenn, I’ve heard much the same. The few negative comments that I have heard were only about isolated moments in the conference. Everyone I have talked to felt very optimistic that this was a positive step in the right direction. That gives me hope for our future!

    TF

  5. m.d. mcmullin
    March 9, 2008

    I think distinctives are helpful among “insiders”. For those inside the church it can be helpful to have a map of where we fall on certain beliefs. But for those outside, I’m not sure if the distinctives aren’t just confusing.

    I don’t need to know the distinctives between which central african grubs are better to eat if I have no plans to visit africa and no desire to eat grubs. When you find me hungry and in Africa, give me the distinctives.

  6. Dennis Adams
    March 9, 2008

    Distinctives can be an enormous distraction to the unity that we all seek in the relation to each other. Each movement seems to have some one thing that it wants to be known for. I believe that the most important distinctive that we should have is that we are distinctly different than the one who does not know Christ but not untouchable or unapproachable. Your words are well stated and gracefully placed on the right platform.

  7. Steve Wright
    March 9, 2008

    Now that my friend is the best breakfast I’ve had in awhile. I read this when I first got up today. Powerful words John. Keep writing and I will keep reading. You have a voice in our time my brother. I agree with all you said. You will now be added to my blog roll. Good stuff!!!!!!

  8. Jonathan Stone
    March 9, 2008

    Mike and Dennis. Well said. We were having a discussion in one of my OT courses at Lee recently, and some of the students were trying to get some clarification about the distinction between those identified as “Pentecostals” and those identified as “Charismatics.” (It actually did have some relevance to our discussion). It was a tricky thing to explain, and as I was struggling to make it more clear I had the thought, “This would be so discouraging to a new believer or hungry seeker!”

    At the same time, we have Christians doing things (for example, being rude to a server in a restaurant) that seem like there is little to no distinctive Light in our lives that sets us apart. I think that your comments together pull this dialectical tension together nicely!

  9. Jonathan Stone
    March 9, 2008

    Thanks Steve. I will start a blogroll soon. I’m enjoying your posts on your blog as well as the missionalcog blog. I want to make it over there and check out the Salt Mine!

  10. Phil
    March 11, 2008

    Good stuff! There was an interesting discussion about this at Engage 21. And while distinctives are an important discussion… Christ is central. Enjoyed the read man!

  11. Jonathan Stone
    March 12, 2008

    Hey Phil, I hate I missed the Engage21 conference. I’ve heard various reports but had not heard about a discussion on Pentecostal Distinctives. I’d like to hear more. Hope all is well in FL!

  12. Tom Rosson
    March 12, 2008

    Jon,

    Perhaps it would help the discussion here if you listed what you mean by “Pentecostal distinctives.”

  13. Jonathan Stone
    March 13, 2008

    Tom, thanks. I think you’re right. I’ll come back to this down the road just a bit and ask some more specific questions on this topic.

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This entry was posted on March 6, 2008 by in faith.
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