Thursday, June 14, 2007

A Sacramental Pentecostal

While reading an entirely different post at Ad Orientem, an inspiring article on the Apostles Fast, I was surprised by a quotation from Simon Chan, a professor of systematic theology at Trinity Theological College in Singapore and a member of Singapore's Assemblies of God. He is referred to as "the world's most liturgically minded Pentecostal." Before you scoff at that title, you should read his recent interview with Christianity Today, which was linked and quoted in the Ad Orientem article:
I think that missional theology is a very positive development. But some missional theology has not gone far enough. It hasn't asked, What is the mission of the Trinity? And the answer to that question is communion. Ultimately, all things are to be brought back into communion with the triune God. Communion is the ultimate end, not mission.

Communion means bodily presence. That's at the heart of our incarnational theology, God coming to us in person; it's the meaning of the resurrection of the body. So no matter what virtual reality technology can create, it will never be an adequate substitute for communion...

If we see communion as central to the life of the church, we are going to have an important place for mission. And this is reflected in the ancient fourfold structure of worship: gathering, proclaiming the Word, celebrating the Eucharist, and going out into the world. The last, of course, is mission. But mission takes its place within a larger structure. It is this sense of communion that the evangelical world especially needs. Communion is not just introspection or fellowship among ourselves. It involves, ultimately, seeing God and seeing the heart of God as well, which is His love for the world...

In many services today, the dismissal into the world is quite perfunctory. But if you go to an Orthodox service, you'll be amazed at the elaborate way in which the end of the service is conducted. It's not just a word of dismissal—there are whole prayers and litanies that prepare us to go back out into the world...

There is a certain habit of mind that enables [Pentecostals] to readily leave behind things that don't work and to move on to things that they think will work. Whereas the liturgy creates a different habit of mind, a habit of stability. This has its strengths and weaknesses, just as the Pentecostal mindset has its strengths and weaknesses. But in my view, in the modern world especially, the danger of a short memory far outweighs the danger of not being willing to change...

We need to rediscover this ancient word, catechism...And I don't think that the modern church can improve very much on what has already been given: the creeds, the great commandments, the Lord's Prayer...

Chan also believes one reason missions continue in "native" areas is they have not suffered the secularization that followed the "Enlightenment."

Christianity has a special appeal among what we might call tribal societies, where there is still a strong sense of the sacramental universe.

I had no broader agenda in posting this than to make some of my readers smile. There are many who have come to Orthodoxy from Pentecostal backgrounds, most recently St. Patrick Antiochian Orthodox Church of Warrenton, Virginia (a Western Rite parish). St. Patrick is "the first of several CEC congregations coming into the Church." For many, the fire of the Holy Spirit has led them deeper into communion with the Father and the Son.

If they follow Simon Chan's statements to their logical conclusion, they will soon follow St. Patrick's actions. Until then, may God continue to pour upon them "His divine grace and the gift of the Holy Spirit."

(Hat tip: Ad Orientem)

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