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 Pentecostalism and the Australian Forum
Black SheepGeoffrey J. Paxton, B.D*.  

No one can seriously deny the rapid spread of the charismatic,1 or neo-Pentecostal, movement over the last couple of decades. Christianity Today had this to say about this phenomenon:

    "The force that appears to be making the greatest contribution to the current Christian revival around the globe is Pentecostalism. This movement, which began several decades ago, and which in its early years was very sectarian in character, is now becoming ecumenical in the deepest sense. A neo-Pentecostalism has lately appeared that includes many thousands of Roman Catholics. . A new era of the Spirit has begun. The charismatic experience moves Christians far beyond glossolalia. ... There is light on the horizon. An evangelical renaissance is becoming visible along the Christian highway from the frontiers of the sects to the high places of the Roman Catholic communion. This appears to be one of the most strategic moments in the Church's history."—Christianity Today, Feb. 4, 1972, p. 8.

This type of statement is rather typical of the many comments on this movement which has made and continues to make colossal strides into every corner of Christendom.

Out of the Womb of Last-Century Revivalism

A historical blood test will show, beyond dispute, that the charismatic, or neo-Pentecostal, child comes from the holiness movement of the last century.

    "John Wesley was father to much of the 19th century American religious fervor; one of his children was the Holiness Movement which gave rise to the Pentecostalism of the 20th century."—Kilian McDonnell, "The Classical Pentecostal Movement," New Covenant, Vol. I, No. 11 (May, 1972). p.1. (New Covenant is a monthly publication serving the Catholic charismatic renewal.)

Bruner cites the Pentecostal historian, Charles Conn, who also affirms this historical descent, saying, "... the Pentecostal movement is an extension of the holiness revival that occurred during the last half of the nineteenth century."—Quoted in Frederick Dale Bruner, A Theology of the Holy Spirit (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1970). p.44.

Family Squabble and Subsequent Leaving Home

The child of the holiness movement was a black sheep of the family who now appears to have the privilege of painting the rest of the family.

The dominant emphasis of the holiness movement of the last century (and its twentieth-century successors) was "the victorious and Spirit-filled life." Its focal point was the attainment of "an infilling experience," a degree of "surrender" which resulted in an uninhibited walk with God. Boardman, Inskip, A. B. Simpson, R. A. Torrey, Andrew Murray and Hannah W. Smith were some of the leading figures in this movement.

Towards the end of the nineteenth century, some within the holiness movement began to speak about — and to seek for — a "baptism of fire." This baptism of fire was seen as a miraculous visitation of the Holy Spirit. Opposition arose from those who regarded two blessings as quite sufficient! Despite such opposition, the "advocates of fire" continued to make an impact on the rest of the family with publications such as Live Coals of Fire (first published in October, 1899). which spoke of "the blood that cleans up, the Holy Ghost that fills up, the fire that burns up, and the dynamite that blows up." The explosion took place eventually, and the Pentecostal child came into the world insisting on the physical sign of speaking in tongues as the evidence of the baptism in the Spirit.

It is important at this stage to emphasize that though the tongues issue caused the split in the family, resulting in the leaving home of the Pentecostal child, the basic underlying theology of the two groups was and is the same. Harold Lindsell quite rightly says:

    ". . . members of these groups [Keswick movement, the holiness movement and other deeper-life movements] believe in the infilling of the Holy Spirit, believe that every Christian should be so filled, and believe there are conditions the believer must meet in order to have this experience. Many of them have had an infilling experience and are convinced that they are in no way inferior in their daily walk to those whose baptism has been accompanied by tongues-speaking."—Harold Lindsell, Christianity Today, Dec. 8, 1972, p.9.

Family Reunion

The Pentecostal descendant grew in stature outside the family for some sixty years and was seen by Dr. Henry Van Dusen (Union Theological Seminary) as the "third force" in Christendom. Then about 1960, in the words of John Sherrill (They Speak With Other Tongues). "the (family] walls came tumbling down." At first hundreds, and then thousands, and now millions, of Episcopalians, Methodists, Lutherans, Baptists, Presbyterians and Congregationalists began to be painted by the hitherto separated and somewhat outcast brother. The reunited brethren have become known as the neo-Pentecostal, or charismatic, movement. This neo-Pentecostal, or charismatic, force has become a transdenominational phenomenon which, though functioning outside the structures of traditional Pentecostalism, is in basic agreement with it.

Some members of the (deeper life, holiness movement) family refused — and still do refuse — to be painted. They disclaim any allegiance with this vociferous brother and usually concentrate on the superficial differences, such as liturgical conduct ("dancing before the Lord," etc.) or even speaking with more than one tongue. Such, in the words of Lindsell already quoted, "are convinced that they are in no way inferior in their daily walk to those whose baptism has been accompanied by tongues-speaking." This may well be the case, but there is also a certain embarrassment at the rather breathtaking growth of these brethren.

Why did big brother make such an impact on the family? Why are scores of folk from evangelical churches (to say nothing of the many non-evangelical churches) "going over" to the ranks of this movement? This question has not received anything like the ventilation that it deserves as far as this writer is concerned.

Big Brother Leads the Family to Rome via Duquesne and Notre Dame

    "Within a month, what had begun at Duquesne spread to the university of Notre Dame and to the Catholic student parish of Michigan State University. From these three centers it spread further. Soon people were speaking of a 'Pentecostal movement' in the Catholic Church."—Edward 0. O'Connor, The Pentecostal Movement in the Catholic Church (Notre Dame: Ave Maria Press, 1911), pp.15, 16.

So writes the scholarly Benedictine, Edward O'Connor, concerning the beginnings and spread of the charismatic phenomenon within the ranks of the Church of Rome.

How do the respective groups (non-Catholic charismatics and Catholic charismatics) view this inroad into the Church of Rome? Generally,1 the non-Catholic neo-Pentecostals see the inclusion of Rome as a sign that God has decided to forego His denominational allegiances with a show of great power. Gelpi speaks of the Pentecostal phenomenon as having ". . .shown no respect for denominational boundaries. And with the appearance of Roman Catholic Pentecostalism, the movement may have achieved something like an ultimate."—Donald L. Gelpi, Pentecostalism: A Theological Viewpoint (New York: Paulist Press, 1971). p.33.

Rev. Thomas A. White, in a circular letter to priests from the Catholic Enquiry Centre in Sydney, Australia, had this to say:

    "My conclusion, for what it is worth, is that the Catholic Pentecostal Movement holds great promise for genuine renewal within the Church. Its power to revitalize the faith of many Catholics (particularly young people) is quite remarkable. its possible ecumenical value is far reaching."

Kilian McDonnell, in his work, Catholic Pentecostalism: Problems in Evaluation, says:

    "Within Catholicism Pentecostalism has met with considerably less resistance than it has within the historic Protestant churches, partly because the concept of the 'wondrous' is more at home in Catholicism than in mainstream Protestantism." —Kilian McDonnell, Catholic Pentecostalism: Problems in Evaluation (Pecos, N. Mex.: Dove Publications, 1 970, p.31.

McDonnell is not the only one who sees (what he inaccurately terms) "Pentecostalism" as having deep affinities with the spirituality of Rome. O'Connor makes no bones about asserting the same:

    "Although they derive from Protestant backgrounds, the Pentecostal churches are not typically Protestant in their belief, attitudes or practices." O'Connor, op. cit., p 23.
    ". . . it cannot be assumed that the Pentecostal movement represents an incursion of Protestant influence." ibid., p.32.
    ". . . Catholics who have accepted Pentecostal spirituality have found it to be fully in harmony with their traditional faith and life. They experience it' not as a borrowing from an alien religion, but as a connatural development of their own." Ibid., p.28.
    "Moreover, the doctrine that is developing in the Pentecostal churches today seems to be going through stages very similar to those which occurred in the early Middle Ages when the classical doctrine was taking shape." —Ibid., pp.193, 194.

It would not be wide of the mark to say that, if the next quotation from Fr. O'Connor is correct, neo-Pentecostalism ought to be heralded by the Vatican as a revival of the truest and best of her religion:

    "Similarly, the traditional devotions of the Church have taken on more meaning. Some people have been brought back to a frequent use of the sacrament of Penance through the experience of the baptism in the Spirit Others have discovered a place for devotion to Mary in their lives, whereas previously they had been indifferent or even antipathetic towards her. One of the most striking effects of the Holy Spirit's action has been to stir up devotion to the Real Presence in the Eucharist"—Edward D. O'Connor, Pentecost in the Catholic Church (Pecos, N. Mex.: Dove Publications, 1967), pp.14, 15.

Earlier we raised a question regarding the impact of neo-Pentecostalism on evangelical Christians. We must now ask further questions. Is the experience the same in both Catholic and non-Catholic circles? Is this the same Spirit which led the Reformers to regard so much that is basic to Catholicism as a disastrous deviation — indeed, negation — of the gospel of grace? These questions, like the questions raised earlier, ought to receive serious consideration by all who are concerned for truth. Lindsell speaks of a painful plight (loc cit., p.11) of Catholics who have been regenerated and who have spoken with tongues, but where is this plight being seen? The plight seems to be that there is little plight being experienced by so many who are Catholics and "Spirit-baptized" at the same time.

"Victory-Life," Pentecostalism and Romanism — Fundamental Affinity?

We emphasized previously that there is an underlying agreement between so much of evangelical holiness teaching and Pentecostalism. We have also seen how some avant-garde Roman theologians are bent on stressing the fundamental affinity between Pentecostal spirituality and that of Rome. We now propose a third point of investigation: Is it possible that there is a direct (though underlying) affinity between so much evangelical "victory-life" spirituality and classic Roman Catholic spirituality? The noted Catholic author, Louis Bouyer, has claimed as much:

    "The Protestant Revival . recalls the best and most authentic elements of the Catholic tradition. ... "—Louis Bouyer, The Spirit and Forms of Protestantism(Cleveland: World Publishing Co., 1964), p.186.
    "We see in every Protestant country, Christians who owed their religion to the movement we have called, in general, Revivalism, attain a more or less complete rediscovery of Catholicism." — Ibid., p.188.
    ". . . the instinctive orientation of the revivals toward the Catholic .. would bring in that way a reconciliation between the Protestant Movement and the [Roman] Church. ..." Ibid., p.197

Bouyer closes with an appeal to his fellow Catholics to prepare for the inevitable return of the separated brethren under the influence of contemporary revivals.

The Australian Forum and Present Truth Magazine

The Australian Forum came into being a little over twelve months ago. It is a nondenominational group dedicated to the gospel of grace alone as it is expounded in the New Testament and reaffirmed by the Reformers in the sixteenth century.

The main activity of the Australian Forum since its inception has been the conducting of forums in every major city of Australia, in Auckland, New Zealand, and in Seattle, Portland, Sacramento, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Denver and other places in the U.S. These forums have taken the form of presentation of papers and dialogue following.

The official organ of the Australian Forum is a magazine called Present Truth Magazine, which, over the past dozen months or so, has gone out, free of charge, to hundreds of thousands of readers. Present Truth Magazine is directed to Christian leaders mainly in the hope that it may provoke thought and fruitful action for the gospel.

Why did the Australian Forum come into being? It came into being because it firmly believes that there is only one gospel, which is the gospel of grace alone, and because it fears this gospel is being lost in an avalanche of religious emotionalism and subjectivism in our day. The forum believes that there is a basic affinity between the following pairs: (1) much victory-life piety-Pentecostalism (both traditional and neo); (2) Pentecostalism-Romanism; (3) much victory-life piety-Romanism.

The Australian Forum believes that, essentially, O'Connor of Notre Dame is correct in affirming the essentially non-Reformational character of Pentecostalism and its deep affinities with the medieval spirituality of Rome. The forum also believes that Louis Bouyer is correct, not so much in his optimism concerning "the inevitable return of the separated brethren," but in his aligning of much of revivalistic-type Christianity with the "most authentic elements of the Catholic tradition."

The Australian Forum has sought never to enter into cheap and uncharitable polemics. The emphasis, from the beginning, has been on attempting to make clear the objective gospel of the aliena justitia Christi and to measure present-day claims against it. The forum has sought to stress (albeit imperfectly) what Lindsell has called "the heart of the salvatory process" (Lindsell, loc. cit, p.11). Though it has sought to challenge the charismatic movement on the relationship between its claims and the gospel, it has also sought to stir evangelicalism into a fresh look at its understanding of sanctification.

It is easy to be cheaply anti-Roman, and the Australian Forum — whether or not it has succeeded — has sought to avoid such. Much earnest and sincere discussion has taken place with Roman Catholics in order to discover their opinion of the basis of fellowship. The experience of the members of the forum has been that the "baptism in the Spirit" all too often looks like it is being made the basis of such fellowship, with the tragic brushing aside of the fundamental doctrinal question.2 It would be wrong to suggest that Protestant neo-Pentecostalists are less prone to do this than their Catholic brethren, for such is not at all the case.

The Australian Forum believes that the question of theology is the central question, and its forums and magazine have therefore been dedicated solely to theological considerations:

1. The fundamental nature of the gospel as the authoritative declaration of what God has done in and through Jesus Christ, has been stressed over and over again. Negatively, the forum has stressed that the gospel is not at all primarily concerned with what God is doing in the believer. Testimony, therefore, is testimony to the objective (historical) realities of the kerugma. The pulsating heart of the New Testament is the Lordship of Jesus Christ over sin, demonstrated in forgiveness for the believing subject and decisive defeat for the devil and his cosmic henchmen. The New Testament writers never left this fact, nor ought we. Ethics are the explication and application of this fact for the individual and collective existence of the believer.  

2. The Australian Forum has again and again sought to make clear that at conversion — itself a work of the gospel — the believer receives all that God has to give him in this life, save, of course, increased understanding of what has taken place and what will most assuredly take place at the parousia. The notion of "receiving Christ" — an unfortunate expression smacking of man's cherished autonomy — and then, at some subsequent stage, receiving the Spirit of His "fullness," is seen by members of the forum as a flagrant — though no doubt unintentional — distortion of the Biblical presentation. Needless to say, this is a challenge to much victory-life, Pentecostal, neo-Pentecostal and Catholic "subsequence theology."  

3. The Australian Forum has sought to represent what it firmly believes to be the New Testament concept of the Christian life. The Christian life is one of unrelenting conflict (Gal. 5:17) until Jesus comes to "change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto His glorious body" (Phil. 3:21). To deny this, explicitly or implicitly, and to offer release here and now, is to rob the Christian of his hope. The reason for the parousia meaning so little to so many for so long, might well be here—in the offer of here-and-now fullness by countless propagators of a totally un-Biblical "victory."

A great deal of work needs to be done in the area of empirical piety and the relation of such to the "new man" of the New Testament. To put. it another way, the concept of the "changed life" needs serious revision in the light of the teaching of the New Testament. Take the example of General Ralph E. Haines, Jr., quoted by Lindsell:

    "what has the baptism of the Holy Spirit done for me? I think it has made me a better man, a better husband, and more understanding of my fellow man. I am much more excited by prayer and Bible study—and I believe more perceptive in both. I am a far stronger witness for Jesus Christ. . ." —Ibid., p. 9.

Now for a question: Could the reader imagine Paul saying the same sort of thing — "The Spirit-baptism has made me aware of being better [man, husband], more understanding [of others], more perceptive and a stronger witness"? Does Lindsell realize the import of what he writes when he says:

    "Many of them [members of the Keswick, holiness and other deeper-life movements] have had an infilling experience and are convinced that they are in no way inferior in their daily walk to those whose ..." ibid.

Does the infilling of the Spirit produce such an awareness of one's spiritual worth? Members of the Australian Forum would like to suggest that the opposite is more likely to be the case. One would realize how poor a husband he is, etc. (cf. Rom. 3:27; 1 Cor. 1 :26-31).

Sanctification, the Australian Forum has sought to stress, is not justification superseded but justification in action. Sanctification is the gospel peeping through the unpretentious existence of the one who has been confiscated by the Lord of glory. Nor is sanctification "a moment-by-moment freedom from sin" in the sense of "having none of it" and "not doing any of it." Sanctification is an ever-increasing awareness of just how much of sin we do have and how much of it we, in actual fact, do! This is always one of the great needs of the Christian, for we are naturally predisposed to find our sinfulness in thought and deed quite incredible. Of one thing we may be quite sure — the Spirit will never diminish our awareness of sin; we will always want to say, "O wretched man that I am," and, under the same Spirit's leadership, go on to greater awareness of what grace means! Hence, "O wretched man that I am! ... thank God. ... "is always the cry of the maturing Christian.

Bad theology is the cause of all our dilemmas. From whence comes this bad theology? Some would like to answer, "From incompetent preachers and teachers." It must follow that this is the case. In what, however, does such incompetency consist? The Australian Forum feels that it can give but one fundamental answer to this question: "A failure to handle the Bible in a satisfactory manner." Herein lies what could well be the greatest need of the evangelical church of God today. We do not know, countless thousands of sincere believers do not know, how to read the Bible. We are talking here of that ugly-sounding word methodology. We all have one, but it is having the correct one that is needed. The Australian Forum, with all its imperfections, has sought and is seeking to make a contribution towards a clear grasp of the gospel, which is the power of God for healthful existence.

*Geoffrey J. Paxton is an Anglican clergyman and principal of the Queensland Bible Institute, Brisbane, Australia. His entire ministry since his ordination in 1966 has been spent in Brisbane diocese. He entitled this article "The Nature and Extent of Pentecostalism and the Positive Contribution of the Australian Forum." From The Australian Church Record, Feb.22, 1973, pp.2, 3. Reprinted by permission.

1 Note the qualification. It is not easy to obtain an accurate account of this sort of thing. Such has been the dominant view expressed by non-Catholic neo-Pentecostals with whom I have come into contact.
2 Cf. Ibid. (remarks at bottom of page).