A message delivered by P. Douglas Small at the 25th Anniversary Gathering of the PCCNA in Memphis, 2019.
I believe the church of the future will be, and must be, a glorious intertwining of Messianic roots, liturgical rhythms, evangelical expediency, and Pentecostal empowerment.1
- Messianic roots reach back to the richness of the Old Testament, to our Jewish forebears and their story, encoded in the festivals.
- Liturgical rhythms, along with the Jewish redemptive calendar, guide us to retell our story annually and to systematically revisit basic theological truths.
- Evangelicalism urges us to be missional out of core theology.
- Pentecostalism endues us with the power to accomplish the task.
We are a long way from this synthesis. Now, we are a decidedly divided Church. It has been my privilege, over the last two decades plus, to move across many tribal lines in my involvement in the exploding prayer and city-impact movement. I have been greatly enriched by the friendships and exposure to so many traditions.
I have been privileged to participate in many multi-denominational gatherings, large and small. I have also been in meetings with groups that were feverishly denominational. In such a context, I did not take offense that the group represented itself as God’s preferred best or as His cutting-edge people. When such groups, with me as a guest in the room, often there to speak, reviewed their tribal doctrine and polity, and inferred its superiority, I sat silently without protest. I understood their denominational passion because I have been in gatherings of my own tribe that echoed many similar sentiments.
Tribal/denominational self-esteem is a positive thing, if we keep it in balance and avoid exclusiveness. We must learn to embrace the entire body of Christ – stewarding our loyalty to our immediate community with a multi-denominational openness. The prolific attempts to be non-denominational always end either as anti-others or as another quasi denomination.
We must, especially in the current hour, learn to walk with other movements while celebrating our differences. We can find mutual ground around core theology and common mission. We should not insist on either-or, on exclusively denominational or multi-denominational constructs. We should learn to move in both worlds, cherishing the slice of doctrines that make each of us distinctive, treasuring our unique gifts and callings, relishing our own history and yet, enriching, not diminishing one another.
Core theology is that simple center of Biblical truth that makes Christians Christian. Tribal theology are those slices of truth that make Lutherans Lutheran, Baptists Baptist, Jewish Congregations Messianic, and Pentecostals Pentecostal. Such differences should not destroy us – they should, however, be subordinate to the Christological non-negotiable core. With such differences in view, we must find a protocol that allows us to create synergy in task theology, out of that simple common core of theology, being enriched by our diversities. And, we must also find forums for honest dialogue about our differentiations, neither to dismiss nor homogenize them. True unity demands the full force and flavor of authenticity and diversity.
That being said, there are times when each denomination or movement, a cluster of denominations, must address its own calling before God, its tribal theology, and its common mission. Such a discussion is not meant to exalt that tribal council above another. It is a behind closed doors conversation – and yet, as mature followers of Christ, we should learn from one another’s tribal councils.
This paper is the essence of a multi-tribe address delivered at the PCCNA 25th Anniversary in Memphis in 2019. It is intended for the audience of Pentecostal tribal leaders. Hopefully, it will be informative to all who read it.
In 100 AD, 70 years after the resurrection, 30 years after the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple – there were only 20-25,000 believers. For every living believer, an estimated one-to-two others had been martyred under Nero or Domitian. All the original twelve apostles were dead, as were Paul, Timothy and Titus, John Mark and Luke, Silas and Barnabas, along with James and Jude, brothers of Jesus.2
Yet in 50 years, the number of Christians would virtually double to 40,000
- By 180 AD, the number first passed 100,000. Christians were then in all the provinces of the Empire, in 23 of the 31 largest cities.
- By 197 AD, every nation had a movement of Christianity, despite the blood of martyrs that still flowed.
- By 250, the number of Christians passed one million.
- In 310 AD, after another episode of severe persecution, there were 20 million globally, 10 million in the Empire (out of an empire population of 60 million, a ratio of 1:6, 14% of the Empire’s population). Unbelievable!
- All this was after 10 imperial persecutions, each of which destroyed bishops, key leaders and pastors, their best minds and their most stalwart examples. In a sea of paganism, with a faith that was illegal and worship that took place in secret, they grew – until the empire capitulated! Foreign armies were no match for Rome’s power, but this group of roaring lambs toppled the Empire.
With no buildings or budget, with few resources and virtually no favor from political powers, and with only a handful of formally untrained followers – the world was changed.
Can it happen again? If so, how?
These ordinary Christians fellowshipped with fire, and in the daily flow of their lives, they carried the gospel wherever they lived and worked. They were a leaven of godly influence. Merchants and domestics. Buyers and traders. The wealthy and peasants. Artists and physicians. Slaves and prisoners. In Christ, these socially and ethnically diverse followers of Christ found common ground – they were made one, a family, by the Spirit. And they were made to the world around them, salt and light.
In cities without churches, they organized Christian cells, two or three gathered ‘in His name.’ Jesus, known to them and revealed through them by the Spirit, transcended all their other differences. The commonality found in him was more compelling than any connection with and in the world – social, linguistic, economic, familial. In these informal prayer circles, they urged one another to be missional, to boldly, but discreetly share their faith, to not be silent. This often cost them their jobs, status, and at times, their lives. Nevertheless, the cells became centers of mission, and evolved, with new converts into churches, and the churches changed cities.
Note the order: Prayer – mission – then the church. Praying people: missional people; praying churches: missional churches. We begin with churches, attempt to motivate our constituents to pray, and engage in mission. The New Testament order and that of the apostolic church places mission first, subordinated only to prayer – and corporate prayer gives birth to the church. This was the experience of early Pentecostals. Cottage prayer meetings ministered to neighbors who did not attend a church, and the prayer meeting, in a missional mode, gave back to a church
Our future is in our past. It is in recovering the DNA of prayer at the intersection of mission. We must insist on deep dependence on God in Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit, on fresh fire in our bellies that propels us to the next town and to the next generation.
Antioch, the missionary staging point of the apostolic church, was an ethnic collage. This was the template – not Jewish Jerusalem that had difficulty integrating Gentiles.
Azusa Street, as well, was a collage of blacks and whites, rich and poor, notables and nobodies. “The color-line has been washed away,” they would exclaim. Los Angeles’ elites came out of curiosity, as did their throwaways. In one season, three daily services flowed one into another virtually around the clock. The little building emptied and filled up again and what was essentially a prayer service continued – assaulting heaven in behalf of a divine invasion. And God heard – and the echo continues around the world.
William Seymour, black, with one eye, became the pastor of a prayer meeting that gave birth to a global missional movement. He humbly led the meetings, his head often buried in a pair of orange crates, one stacked on top of another. He had some Bible school education – but it was from outside of the classroom. He was not allowed to sit inside due to the color of his skin. Arriving in LA to pastor, he was quickly locked out of the church he came to serve. The rejections, the humiliation, the lack of honor was not something he allowed to spoil his soul. He apparently refused offense – and he also refused to offend, opening the Azusa Street meetings to all. There would have been no Azusa, no lasting change, no shining example of reconciliation and grace, had Seymour allowed racial pride to warp his soul. By grace, he became invincible to wounds that would have destroyed others and the movement. Tough and tender, in retrospect, he now looms larger than life. Transcending race, he modeled for us not merely racial reconciliation, but spiritual reconciliation. And that is found only in Christ, scripted in our hearts by the Spirit. It is not merely an attitude or relationship adjustment, but a completely new way to see the world.
A New Identity
At Pentecost, at Antioch, and in the modern era, at Azusa Street, we witnessed God’s desire to give birth to a new race of men not seen in history and only possible in Christ – the ‘chosen’ (eklektos) race – select, favored, and choice. Is such a thing possible? Have we missed a critical clue from 1 Peter 2:9. One new race of people in the earth – chosen, royal, priestly, a nation – as was Israel – but now, a nation scattered among the nations, to unite, to reconcile, to make peace.
The church that modern Pentecost birthed out of Azusa Street was unique from the Reformation churches. It was not German Lutheran, or Swiss Calvinistic, or Scottish Presbyterian, or English Anglican. It was not Christianity bound to a language, a culture, or a political system – it was differentiated, transcending race and nationality.
The New Testament church likewise was not Jewish or Roman, Greek or Samaritan. True Pentecost was never intended to create a black or white, Hispanic or Asian church – we are a new race of men in Christ – a ‘chosen’ race. It is the desire of God before a broken watching world, to forge from our differences one new man (Eph. 2:14-16), one new nation of royal priests to the nations. To make us one, that the world might believe (John 17).
At Azusa Street, God crossed the lines of offense, rejection and exclusion, and stood with Seymour, and he washed the color line away, creating an army, a chosen race of simple, sincere priestly men and women. Like the Galileans that Jesus chose, these early Pentecostals, formally untrained, rocked their world. In just over a century, the movement has grown to be 700 million strong.
Sadly, we too quickly redrew the lines. We created church movements with congregations that were more identified with socio-linguistic cultural markers than our transcending identity with Christ. We came to reflect the world in which we belong, more than the heaven to which we aspire and were to represent. Now, God is calling us back to the future – to uncover a DNA of identity in Christ that has been lost. It is not only a key to our future, but to the healing of nations as well. This is a task beyond us, a relational construct that is humanly impossible – it demands a work of the Spirit.
The Present Hour Demands a Pentecostal Church. This is our hour. The division and the darkness is growing around us. The Evil One always overplays his hand. He now acts as if the nation was in his grasp. Only a chosen, unified, humble, praying people, deeply dependent on the power of the Holy Spirit can turn this nation!
We Must Be Profoundly Pentecostal. This could be the hour for which we have been destined, if, going back to the future, we return to our humble, prayerful, missional roots. We survived the years of being called a cult, of being excluded from ministerial associations, of being denied building permits, of being misunderstood and mischaracterized. We tasted in our early history, the apostolic bitterness of cultural-social disapproval. We were not favored by the state, the counties, or cities. That threw us into the hands of deep dependence on God. We were forced to be empowered by the Spirit – there was no other choice. And we were!
Most recently, we have relished the decades of evangelical affirmation, of respectability, and of the measured acceptance of glossolalia, and not only admission to circles from which we were once barred, but leadership roles. Some Pentecostals have attempted to erase or minimize the differences between them and our evangelical friends. Some have given up on the Pentecostal distinctive to win favor and broader acceptance in the West, dominated by liturgical, mainline and evangelical churches. While the broader fellowship is to be celebrated, and the common synergy is to be nobly exploited, we must not accept the standard of being merely Evangelicals with tongues, Christians with a Pentecostal flavoring. Especially not in this current post-Christian era. Rather, we must rise to the challenge of being deeply and profoundly, yet humbly, Pentecostal, formed and empowered by the Spirit. This means the embrace of all the pneumatic gifts. It also means the simultaneous and equally important cultivation of supernatural character, the fruit of the Spirit. It means the embrace of the apostolic and prophetic, along with the ministry gifts of pastors and teachers, with a fresh new wave of lay evangelism. It means becoming a missional movement.
We Must Be Perceptibly Pentecostal. Early Pentecostals, with little formal education, preached from burning hearts. In many cases, they had little understanding about sermon preparation. They simply shared from what they had learned on their knees, praying over ragged, marked-up, open bibles that they had stained with tears. Rising from calloused knees, they humbly declared that what God done for them, he could do for others – and cities changed.
The strength of Pentecostals has been beyond the intellectual. It has been rooted in a ‘lived liturgy’ – lives so evidently impacted by a God-encounter that the effect on family and friends, sometimes on a whole town or city, was stunning. It is not that Pentecostals, were or are anti-intellectual. Rather, historically, Pentecostals are decidedly anti-intellectualistic.3 We have insisted on a commonsense faith, believing that the Holy Spirit enlightens; that in sincerely reading the Bible, common men and women can gain enough understanding adequate for a holy, Spirit-led life. We have steadfastly refused to allow the Bible to be the property of the intellectually elite. As Douglas Jackson quaintly says, Pentecostals have learned to “think in the Spirit.”
We Must Be Pervasively Pentecostal. A Pentecostal encounter with the Spirit changes everything – the relationship with and perception of both God and the Evil One, the view of sin and sanctification, discernment of friends and enemies, appraisal of obstacles within – the flesh; and those without – the world. All is seen differently. Pentecostalism offers a different way to see and do ministry. It is more than justification, more than regeneration – it is dependence on the power and person of the Holy Spirit. It is not merely an evangelical worldview with a dash of the Holy Spirit. It is more.
We Must Be Empowered Pentecostals. As Pentecostals, we affirm Luther’s understanding of salvation as justification by faith – a legal transaction that frees us from the guilt of sin. Classically, we also affirm Wesley’s view – salvation as regeneration, a quickening of the Spirit, in which dead men taste life, and are liberated from the grip of sin. This is the felt; the experiential. In Pentecost, salvation is also seen as liberation not only from both sin’s guilt and grip, but also from Satan’s power. Indeed, the greatest act of spiritual warfare is, as Walter Brueggemann says, “switching sides,” being transferred from the body of Adam into Christ. In Luther, we meet truth; in Wesley, we sense the warmth of God’s love; but in Pentecostal conversion, men and women taste power. They are set free – liberated, not only from, but to; freed to sing and share Christ, to witness boldly and tell the story, to worship passionately, to pray fervently. This is an empowering liberation to become, to be and to do, out of relationship.
Much of the church characterizes the gospel as love – as experiencing God’s love. But there is more. The gospel also has a compelling rational dynamic as well. It is a set of propositional truths. It is not merely faith in response to God’s love, it requires the embrace of ‘the’ faith – a set of fundamental, Biblical truths that define the worldview of Christians. Pentecostals believe there is more. They believe that the cross, and therefore the gospel, is at the intersection of love and truth, and there, just beyond Calvary, we also meet the power of God – resurrection power. This is the flame of love that cannot be extinguished, and truth that cannot be silenced, and the power that cannot be obstructed. It still raises the dead. It still heals sick bodies. It introduces the miraculous dynamic. It is love on steroids, and the sword of truth wielded by the Spirit – that melts the hardest of hearts. The gospel, for the Pentecostal, is love, truth, and power.
We must go back to the future
A Fresh Touch
Someone has observed that the first generation of any movement is usually radically transformed. The 2nd and 3rd generations are grateful – they live the transformation indirectly, enjoy its fruit, and then sadly drift back into complacency. The 4th generation is often clueless. Rejecting the faith of their fathers – they go back to the sin from which the family was liberated – that generation now needs a fresh revival, without which the movement dies.
Lester Sumrall warned, before his death, that modern Pentecostals had attempted to live from their initial blessing, and that every movement needed, from time to time, a fresh blessing that repurposed them, that, in a sense, reinvented them. We must humbly admit, as Pentecostals, that we are now in need of a fresh blessing, one that centers us in mission and empowers us to accomplish that mission. We have stayed at the same mountain for too long. God is moving – and we must determine to move with him, or become a wonderful movement that had its season on the stage of history, but lost its purpose and the power to propel it forward.
In the past, Pentecostal revivals shut down cities – like Los Angeles. In Pentecost, from Acts 2 and forward, it is clear God was never about establishing little churches, enclaves from the dominate, pagan culture. The churches of Acts engaged cities. From Azusa Street, Pentecostal fire was carried to Goldsboro and Falcon, NC. Sparks illuminated Pentecostal fires deep in the hills and hollows of Camp Creek, NC. Coalitions formed in places like Hot Springs, AR. Existing movements embraced the fullness in the Spirit and became Pentecostal. All over the world, people were suddenly fellowshipping with the fire, towns and hamlets were stirred at brush arbors and in tent revivals. Prayer propelled men and women into mission – and then on to the next town; and mission, bathed in prayerful dependence on God, through a revival or some other means, left behind a congregation.
That Pentecostal dynamic, though not necessarily in the same wineskin, must again be recovered.
A Call for Balance
We have confused, at times, faith and confidence; faith and determination; and we have been guilty of a kind of Pentecostal triumphalism. We must, with the task before us, recover, on one hand, Luther’s theology of the cross – weakness, nothingness without God, desperation, humility. And on the other hand, resurrection power – the ghost of Jesus working with us. Humility and Holy Spirit power; Dependence on God and buoyant faith; Emptiness of self and the fullness of God. Simple – Profound; Little people – spiritual giants; no titles – just Jesus. And the compelling proof we offer a watching world, by our message and by God, the Holy Spirit working with us in often miraculous ways, is that Jesus is alive.
When the darkness gathers, and a nation by its words and deeds, invites and empowers evil; when a generation has been mentored on Harry Potter, when it can’t distinguish between Wicca and Christianity, between Allah and Yahweh; when discernment between right and wrong is so displaced that the most egregious immorality becomes the law of the land, and Biblical morals are seen as oppressive, and as hate-speech – then, this is our hour! Only the Holy Spirit can awaken such a culture. Only a gospel of power can set such men free. This is not miracles for the sake of miracles, but the supernatural, as the in-breaking dynamic of the Kingdom of God into a time-space world!
God is inviting us again to join Him on mission – Aslan is on the move. This will not be easy. Some things must change. We must move:
- From church as a Christian theater, praise/performance and inspirational preaching, to the church as a house of prayer for the nations.
- From ministry centered in preaching; to ministry rising out of prayer, and then to preaching.
- From speaking to people about God, to speaking to God about the people.
- From trying to get the people to come and listen to us; to setting our own self aside to go and listen to God.
- From sermons we ask God to bless, to messages God asks us to deliver.
- From the pulpit back to the altar and to the prayer closet.
- From mere preaching – as information; to discipleship and formation out of spiritual disciplines.
We cannot continue to use an Old Testament missional model – focused on place and attraction, rather than the New Testament model, focused on the Person of Christ, and the people who carry God’s glory to the nations.
- From people as spectators to participants in mission.
- From passive to active.
- From ‘come to’ attractional models to a ‘go ye’ model that deploys and empowers.
- From ‘catch and hold’ models to ‘catch and release’ models.
- From church ministry to the marketplace; to churches capable of E2/E3 evangelism.
- From isolation to synergy.
- We are on the early side of an apostolic-seismic shift in which the global call to prayer will become as significant as the Reformation. As significant as the Pentecostal outpouring of the Spirit around the world in the last century.
- We are not being asked by God to merely add prayer to what we are doing. We are being called to finish the Great Commission, and in order to do that, we must make the church a house of prayer for the nations.
- This is not an option – there will come a point at which the current church culture of entertainment must give way to a culture of prayer – passionate prayer, uncomfortable and messy prayer. With every move of God, there are resisters. Not all will do this, embrace this new paradigm – many will persist in oiling the old wineskin.
- This will not merely be a change to the flavor of the church – this will not be superficial. It will be a profound call to church change, out of which mission will accelerate in places of desperate prayer.
- We must grasp again the essence of early Pentecostalism – a profound God-encounter, a transcendent embrace by God that left one speechless – and gloriously bilingual, as the Spirit helped us express our zeal and love for God, and our testimony to a watching world.
- There is yet an impartation of glory to a last day’s church.
What if, across our Pentecostal family, what if…?
- We no longer competed?
- We attempted to live in the fulfillment of Psalm 133?
- We, in every city, established Pentecostal Pastor’s Prayer Fellowships?
- We, focused, not on recycling members, but on the growing number of genuinely unreached in these cities?4
- We, together, in a way never imagined previously, decided to engage North America with the gospel, out of prayer – in a spirit of love, with demonstrated compassion? And yet, also with uncompromising truth? The liberating good news of the gospel. And in with Pentecostal power?
PCCNA – God is calling us into our future. That future has the potential of being greater than our past!
Lament constitutes 30-40 percent of the psalms. Laments are complaint psalms. That is, they protest in the courtroom of heaven against the way things are in the earth, and they plead for God’s intervention, for the in-breaking of His kingdom.5
“Let your kingdom, your rule, your sovereign insertion into our time-space situation take place – we invite you, God. We bind our will to your will. May we hallow your name here, in the earth…”
This is a cosmic prayer. In praying it, we refuse to continue with the status quo, with things the way they are, and yet, we are powerless within ourselves to bring about change – “ Come Lord!” This is, of course, how we arrive at the threshold of God’s power. In the New Testament, on three occasions, lament is conjoined to a resurrection theme. And in the great narrative of Christ’s death and burial, we meet the great resurrection, and that unfolds into Pentecost and the Upper Room, in which these ordinary believers tasted resurrection power, and began to live from it.
Desperate prayer, lament, travail, taps resurrection power. This is more than a positive, ‘can-do’ mentality.
So often, we function, not in heaven’s Supreme Court, but in its Small Claims Court – with narrow needs that, though important to us – the rent, the groceries, a better job, a bigger house – are not the things that move the national or international needle toward revival and awakening. Our prayers are too small. We have forgotten that God governs the world by the prayers of his people; that history turns on the back of intercession.
The mission challenge that Jesus gave to his disciples was subordinate to one thing – “Go, but first, wait, in prayer!” That one thing was the necessary empowerment of the Spirit out of prayer. It is still the foundation of our going. The pause between commission and engagement
Prayer fueled mission, and mission gave birth to the church!
The church does not have a mission, it does not merely do mission!
The mission has a church, and that church has a prayer meeting!
1 I am aware that The Praying Church Movement, which I created, serves many denominations, some of whom are not Pentecostal. It has been my joy to serve across the denominational continuum. Much of the material that we have and do produce is designed for the broader Evangelical church world. However, there are times when messaging needs specificity – in this case, to my own tribal family. There is too often a quickness to draw lines rather than circles, lines that separate, or yet, attempts to coop all others into our tribe or within some new theological boundary – such positions are flawed. We must each be true to our tribe, and yet, learn the protocol of the common camp – where we speak the language of Church universal and enrich one another with our differences. We must do this without having to renounce our own tribal loyalties or flaunt them. We are all on a journey. God is calling all of us, and our tribes, to move with Him, to grow, to change, and to engage in mission, and do so together.
2 Much of the material in this paper was drawn from the book, The New Apostolic Epoch – God’s Determination to Have a Praying and Missional People, by P. Douglas Small. The book is available from Alive Publications (www.alivepublications.org) and may be available in your local Christian bookstore.
3 God consciousness, Spirit awareness cannot be taught. It must be awakened. There is what Rudolph Otto calls a “supra-sensitivity to truth…the [work of the] Holy Spirit of the heart.” Walter Hollenweger used the term ‘lived liturgy’ and offered the differentiation of intellectual verses intellectualism.
4 23% of the US Population lives in only 10 cities; and in another 20, we find 43% of the population. What if – we launched a collaborative process of evangelism in these ten cities, then, another 20 – unified, humble prayer; synergistic mission; healthy missional churches – the goal, a national spiritual awakening.
5 P. Douglas Small has a book due out in late 2019 titled Lament – When Tears become Prayers. Available from Alive Publications (www.alivepublications.org).