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by Daniel A. Tappeiner

Asian Journal of Pentecostal Studies, January 1, 1999

The Pentecostal/Charismatic movement generally interprets itself as a great, new and final movement of God in the end times. Some classical Pentecostals speak of their movement as the “latter rain,” the final outpouring of the Holy Spirit prior to the apocalyptic return of Jesus Christ. Tentative evaluations of this movement from an historical perspective might speak in terms of a new Reformation, comparing it in importance to the great Reformation of the sixteenth century under Luther, Calvin and the Reformers.

This movement, however, is not simply a matter of experience, which would only be an historical phenomenon to be interpreted psychologically, sociologically and culturally. It is also a relatively new understanding of the meaning of the experience and teaching of the New Testament in relation to the Holy Spirit and especially to the matter of baptism in the Spirit and the gifts of the Spirit.

Immediately a series of questions arise in the minds of Evangelicals, those who already hold the faith “once for all delivered to the saints.” What right does this new understanding of scripture have to exist? Is a new normative revelation from God being claimed, as in Mormonism or Christian Science? Is there a danger of going beyond the Jesus of the New Testament to a “spirit” of experience and immediacy? What of all the generations of saints, martyrs and common believers prior to this new movement and new understanding? Were they all deficient? Did they miss the real depth of Christian life?

For a person who is without the perspective of church history such questions may seem irrelevant. The de novo quality of their experience seems enough for the present. There is, however, a real need that such questions be faced and some justification be given. The need is three-fold. First, it is necessary to avoid errors of self-misinterpretation and the attendant dangers of spiritual pride. Second, if unbiblical subjectivism is to be avoided, it is necessary to see continuity with the past as a well as newness in the present. Third, such a justification is necessary in terms of communication with those who know the finality of Jesus Christ and are all too aware of the confusion which comes when the vagaries of the human spirit are uncritically equated with the action of the Holy Spirit.

The approach to such issues and questions must not be narrow. It cannot consist in glib quotes from scripture and the telling of some modern day experience to clinch the point. The approach must be large enough in scope to take into account all the relevant data. It must show continuity with the Spirit’s activity in the church from the time of the New Testament church to the present. It must ask why the new interpretation and present experience are not clearly discoverable in the records of the early church. It must speak to the fact of periodic manifestations of such Spirit-movements in the history of the church. The approach must give an explication of the fact of such past Spirit-movements, but it must also explain why the present movement is unique and significant beyond these earlier movements. It must also deal with the issue of fanaticism, mere emotionalism and doctrinal heterodoxy, which often accompanied such “Spirit movements” in the past. The problem of discernment of spirits and testing must be faced.

To do that is a task of no little difficulty! It must, however, be attempted. It is a legitimate demand upon those who support the present day Pentecostal/Charismatic renewal and who seek to integrate it to the larger world of Christian faith and life. Indeed, it is a demand internally implied in the truth that the impulse to gnosis is embedded in true biblical pistis. St. Anselm’s prayer, “I believe that I might understand” is the only legitimate attitude in the task of theological reflection.

What is required, then, is an adequate theology of church history. The promise of Jesus, that when the Spirit of truth comes He will guide us into all truth (John 16:13), must be properly related to the emergence of any new understanding and movement in the church. I propose to develop a theology of church history based upon the work of Philip Schaff, the Evangelical giant and church historian of the last century. In particular on the approach which he enunciated in his treatment of the issue of the rise of the Oxford movement in England under the leadership of men like John Henry Newman. A proper theology of church history will prove an adequate and solid platform to support and justify the possibility of the new kind of theological understanding of the baptism in the Holy Spirit and the gifts of the Spirit embodied in the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement.

Anyone acquainted with Schaff will know his encyclopedic perspective, his concern for true continuity in the church and his sensitive and balanced approach. He himself was not one to take lightly the past or to overrate the present understanding of his own “enlightened era.” He expressed his attitude on this point in the following words of trenchant irony:

O, thou light of the nineteenth century! How hast thou tarried with thy rising, hiding thyself for a thousand years behind the clouds, in cowardly fear of those dying men, the popes! Come now, ye poor unfortunate children of darkness – ye Leos and Gregorys, ye Emperors… Anselm, and Thomas Aquinas, Bonaventura and Bernard of Clairvaux, Dante Alighieri and Petrarch…Leonardo da Vinci and Raphael, Francis of Assisi and Thomas à Kempis — come forth from your graves and be illuminated by the light that now reigns; learn how to govern church and state from our synods, consistories and advocates; study philosophy and theology at Andover and New Haven; practice poetry, church building, and painting amid the encouragement that is given to the arts in practical, money-loving America; take lessons in piety from the camp meetings… But they have no desire to come back the mighty dead. With a compassionate smile, they point our dwarfish race to their own imperishable giant works and exclaim: “Be humble and learn that nothing becomes you so well.”

The application to the present situation is clear enough.

Yet this man, who so powerfully speaks to our necessity for historical perspective, was also in the vanguard of those who looked for the point at which the Spirit of truth was teaching the church and leading it into all truth. Even in 1844 Schaff looked forward to the next development of the Spirit which he called “Protestant Catholicism.”

In Schaff’s inaugural address as professor of biblical literature and ecclesiastical history at the seminary at Mercersburg, he spelled out his views on the church, the principle of Protestantism and an assessment of the contemporary condition of the church in his time. From this can be extracted a theology of church history which contains the principles needed for the present task of justifying the current Pentecostal/ Charismatic movement as a legitimate possibility, reflecting the work of the Holy Spirit of leading into “all truth.” Schaff summarized his views of the development of the church in his time with a series of 111 theses. I will select out those theses which will provide a framework of understanding to deal with the issues of historical continuity and the possibility of genuine advancement in the area of theological understanding and experience.

I. THE FACT OF DEVELOPMENT

Schaff’s first thesis will serve as the starting point for our exposition of a theology of church history:

Every period of the church and of theology has its particular problem to solve; and every doctrine, in a measure every book also of the Bible, has its classic age in which it first comes to be fully understood and appropriated by the consciousness of the Christian world.

The church is a living, supernaturally constituted organism, not a mere mechanism or phenomenon of psychology and culture. As such it has its own life history, its own processes of growth and its developmental crises. As in any living organism, the church, in its initial constitution, contained, through the work of the Holy Spirit, all the elements necessary for its functioning in God’s purpose and plan. Through the new life of the age to come (deriving from the resurrection of Jesus) and the new power of the age to come (deriving from the ascension and Pentecost) the church was plenarily endowed to fulfill its worldwide mission of kerygmatic proclamation and the charismatic ministry of wholeness. The fullness and completeness of divine teaching was also given through apostolic figures to establish the base for normative life and understanding of divine things.

There is, however, a correlation in the history of the church between three basic elements and every advance in the theological development of the church. First, the church has its own developmental needs and readiness for learning. Second, it has a relationship to its own age, with its Zeitgeist, peculiar concerns and pressures. Third, there is that aspect of Scripture which is most alive and meaningful to the church at a particular point in its development toward the fullness of the stature of Christ, to the aner teleios, of Eph 4:13. Therefore, in fact, the historical and theological development of the church can be analyzed as a series of encounters among all three elements – readiness, context and scripture – in which a particular problem is tackled, solved and developed in the explicit understanding of the church and in so doing, certain books of the Bible and key passages receive their classical expositions.

A review of the development of church doctrine suggests the following skeletal outline which will indicate the fact of development — the leading of the Spirit of truth into all truth. Within the New Testament itself it is clear that the major theological tasks included an integration of the Christ event with the Old Testament tradition, the consequent universalization of Christianity into a religion of world-wide scope, the relation of Christian reality to pagan religions and life-styles and an inner struggle with it own eschatological expectations.

In the following centuries the Gnostics raised the issue of the relation of God to the created order. The trinitarian struggle worked with the relation of God to the person of Jesus Christ. The christological controversies sought to explore the relation of Jesus Christ to humanity. The Pelagian controversy developed the doctrines of sin and grace and the nature of man. In the Medieval period the unique features of the Roman Catholic Church began to emerge, built upon previous advances and developing a complex system in which a sacramental conception of the church as mysticus corporis was the central feature. The Reformation represents an epochal advance in the church’s grasp of the meaning of the Pauline teaching of justification and the re-establishment of the formal authority of Scripture. Recent history is more difficult to assess, but in the late 18th and the 19th centuries the missionary task of the church gained its clearest explicit expression for the time and in the last one hundred years the nature of the church has been extensively explored and expounded in the interests of ecumenicity.

The relevance of all of this to the present day movement of the Holy Spirit is obvious. The church is now ready, both in its own development and in relation to the climate of the age, to wrestle with the reality of the Holy Spirit in the life and experience of the church in a new way. The time has come for a definite exposition of the theology of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit Himself, in executing the sovereign plan of God, is leading the church into a condition which has resulted in the renewed experience of the Spirit in the form found in the New Testament and the theological reflection of the church which naturally follows upon such experience.

II. THE NATURE OF DEVELOPMENT

If the developmental interpretation of the history of the church is correct it is imperative that the precise nature of this process be stated explicitly in terms of its limits, possibility and specific character. It is at this point that questions of superceding Jesus Christ become most insistent. The very legitimate concern exists that in speaking of “development” it may be interpreted to mean leaving behind, as “mere objectivity,” the Jesus of history and the inspired apostolic witness, for a religious experience of the spirit of Jesus separated from Jesus. Schaff was much aware of that very danger as it inhered in the theological reconstructions of Schleiermacher and in the whole dynamic of German liberalism. He therefore states theses, which established very clearly the limits, possibility and nature of the development of the church both in its experiences and doctrine.

He first deals with the issue of the limits to development. In thesis 13 he states very succinctly: “Christianity in itself is the absolute religion, and in this view unsusceptible to improvement.” Jesus Christ is the full final and perfect revelation both of God and humankind. There is nothing beyond Jesus Christ. He is the center of all. In Him the triune God is perfectly revealed. In Him all things in the created order unite in a cosmic “recapitulation.” There is no revelation to follow save the final open manifestation of the glory of God in Jesus Christ and His church in the eschaton. There is no “age of the Spirit” succeeding the “age of the Son” in which the Son is replaced at the center by another reality. Rather, Jesus is both the center and the circumference of Christian experience and truth. He is the limit, the boundary of all legitimate development.

The apostolic writers everywhere assume this fact and they also state it explicitly at times. Jude speaks of contending “for the faith which was once for all (hapax) delivered to the saints” (v. 3). Here “faith” is used to refer to the content of faith, not its usual sense of the experience of supernatural trust based on divine revelation. Paul clearly means the same thing when he speaks of Jesus Christ as the foundation upon which all future ministry is built (1 Cor 3:10-15), or as the chief corner stone, along with the other foundational elements of apostles and prophets, in the holy temple of the Lord (Eph 2:20-22).

Such images clearly mean that all genuine spiritual development in the future must be fully in accord with the “sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching which accords with godliness” (1 Tim 6:3), that is, with Jesus Himself and the apostolic witness and teaching. In other words, all teaching and all experience must be evaluated by the authoritative norm of Jesus and the apostolic message. Any experience or teaching which does not sustain the test of the limit and norm of Jesus Christ is false and to be rejected.

III. THE ISSUE OF PENTECOSTAL/CHARISMATIC “REVELATION”

At this point a question is often raised, by those who seek and accept this finality of Jesus Christ, in relation to the often-repeated references by those in the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement, to receiving “revelations” in the Spirit. An example of such a claim to “revelation” can be seen in the book written by David Wilkerson, a popular Pentecostal figure, which purports to be a prophetic visionary revelation from God for the whole church today relative to the near future.

Pauline “Revelation”

Notice must also be taken here of the Pauline references to “revelation” (apokalypsis) in the “charismatic liturgy” of the early church (1 Cor 14:26, 30). This charismatic liturgy is taken seriously in the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement and such revelation is both expected and received in the context of corporate worship. What is the relation of these charismatic revelations to the hapax revelation of Jesus Christ?

The answer can best be framed in terms of the function of such charismatic revelations in comparison with and contrast to the function of the revelation in Jesus Christ and apostolic witness.

A review of the Pauline usage of the concept “revelation” indicates a three-fold thrust. There are ecstatic revelations (2 Cor 12:1, 7), which are personal in nature. There are charismatic revelations which are corporate and local. There are apostolic-prophetic revelations, which are universal and normative (Eph 3:5). Paul himself experienced the “traditional” ecstatic revelations characteristic of the apocalyptic writers and devotees of the mystery religions. He writes of receiving an abundance of visions (optasia) and revelations in terms which clearly indicate ecstasy and altered states of consciousness (“Whether in the body or out of the body I do not know,” “caught up into paradise,” and “heard things which cannot be told”, 2 Cor 2:1-10). This type of experience was strictly personal in nature, related to God’s purpose for his life and his own spiritual and psychological makeup. This is evident from the fact that his whole ministry began with such a sovereign revelational experience on the road to Damascus (see Gal 1:15, 16), from the very personal way in which the glorified Lord counterbalanced these ecstatic revelatory experiences by allowing “a thorn in the flesh” (2 Cor 12:7), and from the fact that they were not intended for public proclamation to the church (2 Cor 12:4). Paul gives explicit warning against such experiences when they are made the basis for new doctrine or practice outside the context of apostolic teaching and fellowship (Col 2:18).

Paul also speaks of and promotes, as an expected part of the charismatic liturgy, another form of revelation with another purpose (1 Cor 14:26, 30) In charismatic revelation the form is not ecstatic and it takes place in orderly fashion in the context of worship in the Spirit. That this type of revelation is not ecstatic is indicated by the general principle that “the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets” (1 Cor 14:32), by the orderliness expected by Paul and by the close connection of such revelation to the manifestation of prophecy (1 Cor 14:29, 30).

The purpose of such revelations is clearly tied to the corporate context. The general Pauline rule for all charismatic manifestations of the Spirit is “let all things be done for edification” (1 Cor 14:26; see also 1 Cor 12:7; 14:12). This principle governs charismatic revelations whose purpose must be the upbuilding of the church. The purpose is strictly local and always related to the revelation of God in Jesus Christ. This can most clearly be seen in its connection with prophecy which is local and of the moment, for those gathered in worship (1 Cor 14:38; Gal 2:2). In two places it is explicitly stated that such revelation is given by the Holy Spirit from God that we might “understand the gifts bestowed on us by God” (1 Cor 2:12) or that Christians might know their hope, inheritance and power in and through Jesus Christ (Eph 1:17ff). In other words, the nature of this type of charismatic revelation is a divine illumination of the definitive revelation in Jesus Christ, which makes that revelation especially alive and suited to upbuilding the church through a corporate proclamation of it and an appropriate testing by the church.

Paul also writes of apostolic-prophetic revelation which is universal and normative for the church. His own message he claims to be the direct result of revelation (Gal 1:11) and he specifically rejects any “revelation” which is contrary to the Gospel of the Jesus of history (Gal 1:18). He writes to the churches in Asia Minor of the “mystery of Christ”, — the gospel, given by revelation through the apostles and prophets (Eph 3:3-5). Here “prophets” refer to the New Testament prophets. This normative revelation is always in connection with the Old Testament prophetic expectations (Rom 16:25, 26), with the historic person of Jesus Christ (Gal 3:23) and with the foundational, and therefore final and unrepeatable, revelation through the New Testament apostles and prophets (Eph 2:21, 22).

It is only charismatic revelation which is part of the present Pentecostal/Charismatic movement as a normative part of the church’s functioning. Ecstatic revelations are accepted as possible and actual but only personal in significance. Normative revelation is restricted to apostolic teaching and practice and is used as the canon by which charismatic revelations are to be weighed by the gathered church (1 Cor 14:29; 1 Thess 5:19-21).

Johannine Theology of Development

The same dialectic, between the absoluteness of Jesus Christ and developmental leading of the church “into all truth,” is also clearly evident in the Johannine materials. Two passages in the Farewell Discourse (John 14:25; 16:12-15) indicate a delicate balance between the permanent, normative significance of the Jesus of history and the further revelations to come by the Spirit of truth. In both passages it is stated or implied that Jesus’ teachings are incomplete prior to his glorification in the cross and ascension. In the first passage Jesus says “these things” (and no more) I have spoken to you while I am still with you” (v. 25). But – there is more to come – the “all things” which Jesus wants to say to the disciples which they were unable to assimilate (bastazein) in their present spiritual state. Once again reference is made to the coming Spirit of truth who will guide them into all truth.

In these same passages, however, which point to further teachings and revelations from Jesus to be given by the Paraclete, it is clear that they are really from him and will refer back to him. The Paraclete will bring to remembrance all that Jesus had said to them (14:26), he will not speak on his own authority, independent of Jesus (16:12) but will disclose (anangelei) the things which are coming. At the same time the Holy Spirit will also be taking from “the things” of Jesus, i.e., content which comes from Jesus and which points to Jesus, and declaring them so that, in this guiding activity of the Spirit of truth, Jesus will be glorified.

This same balance between the on-going, post-Pentecostal activity of the Spirit and the normative meaning of the history and teaching of Jesus is seen in 1 John 5:6-8. Here the Spirit, “who is the truth,” is a witness to the Jesus of history. The Spirit is united with the witness of the “water and blood” which refer to the historical events of Jesus’ baptism in water at the Jordan and his baptism in blood at the cross.

From this discussion it is clear that there must not be any attempt to go beyond the Jesus of apostolic witness to another gospel or another spirit which is not the Spirit of Jesus (Acts 16:7), whose proper task is to interpret to the church in a living way the hapax of Jesus Christ Himself. Any such attempt is unbiblical and must be guarded against.

The other side of the matter, however, must also be taken seriously, namely, that without the continued activity of the Spirit, of taking of the things of Jesus and declaring them to the church, there is no real gospel any more. Without the living, leading voice of the Spirit of truth the gospel becomes mere dead letter. Once we have laid to rest the specter of further normative revelations being claimed, there should, then, be the positive expectation – indeed demand, for continued charismatic revelations in the church, in order that the body of Christ might be fully built up in the one faith of absolute dependence upon the grace of God in Jesus Christ and in a further grasp of the content of faith, the faith once for all delivered to the saints.

IV THE POSSIBILITY AND CHARACTER OF DEVELOPMENT.

Schaff makes very clear the way in which development is actually possible in the church in thesis 13:

We must not confound with this (absoluteness of Jesus Christ), however, the apprehension and appropriation of Christianity in the consciousness of mankind. This is a progressive process of development that will reach its close only with the Second Coming of the Lord.

The key categories which must be used, if the biblical balance between normative apostolic revelation and the continuing activity of the Spirit leading the church into all truth is to be maintained, are those of “consciousness” and “apprehension.” The distinction between the once-for-all givenness of normative revelation and the active appropriation and apprehension of that revelation in the living, corporate (and then individual) consciousness of the church, makes it very clear how progress and development are possible within the limits of the apostolic hapax. Development does not consist in going beyond Jesus Christ and the apostolic witness, because there is nothing beyond. Going “beyond” could, in fact, only be a reversion to mere human religion, whether it be to the legalistic misunderstanding of Judaism or the multiple forms of religious error found among the other families of humankind. Rather, true development, led by the Spirit of truth, is a matter of drawing ever more deeply upon the treasury of God’s reality and grace as it is found in Jesus Christ. Development can only be an increase of genuine life in Christ and an ever more precise explication, in cognitive categories, of the truth which is in Jesus Christ.

In the Colossian epistle, both increased participation in the material principle of Jesus Christ and in the formal principle are held before those who were being wooed to an advance “beyond Christ”, which was really a falling back into a mixture of heathen and Jewish religious notions and practices. The formal principle is Jesus Christ Himself “in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col 2:3). But He is also then the material principle, for it is from this treasury that “all the riches of assured understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery” may be drawn (Col 2:3). The apostle sums up this whole point in these words: “As, therefore, you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so live in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith…” (Col 2:6). It is one thing to have a treasure of “assured understanding,” it is another to appropriate it personally, in consciousness, in explicit form. The situation is much like having a valuable book in your library without having read any more than the table of contents. The value is in the text, not outside of it. What is required is a real interaction with the contents.

The category “consciousness” suggests its opposite, which is “unconscious” or “implicit.” The domain in which development takes place, then, is that of consciousness not content. Therefore it is evident that this change is a shift from implicit to explicit. The Spirit’s role is the explication, in the consciousness of the church, of that which the church previously had lived upon only implicitly but which is now called forth according to the developmental readiness of the church as a living, growing organism and by the pressures experienced externally from the Zeitgeist and internally from the dynamic which urges pistis to seek gnosis. As Schaff goes on to say in thesis 16:

It is possible for the church to be in possession of a truth and live upon it, before it has come to be discerned in her consciousness…. Thus the child eats and drinks long before it has the knowledge of food, and walks before it is aware of the fact, much less how it walks.

CONCLUSION

The theology of church history which we have extracted from Schaff’s “theses for the times” serves quite well in providing the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement with a rationale for the possibility of “newness” and development, while maintaining a senses of historical perspective and connectedness. It does not, of course, answer all of the specific questions which can be raised exegetically or historically. But it does point in a direction which would be more acceptable to the larger Evangelical world, to which Pentecostals and Charismatics could and should be positively related. In the specific matter of the nature of “revelation” and the danger of going beyond Jesus Christ, it is clear that neither Paul nor John allows it, nor do Pentecostal/Charismatics intend it.

Much work remains to be carried out in detail, within this Christian consciousness model for the theology of church history. A series of further question arise which must be dealt with if all of the data of the history of the church are to be properly placed within the developmental framework we have presented as one which will justify the claims of the Pentecostal/Charismatic to be a significant work of the Holy Spirit and one which represents a further dialectic advance in the consciousness of the church.

ENDNOTES

  1. This is not to say that such statements are an approval in any way of the doctrines and practices of, say, the Latter Rain Assemblies of South Africa in the late 1920s, which were generally repudiated by most classical Pentecostals. It is simply an “eschatologizing” of a familiar biblical metaphor. See Walter J. Hollenweger, The Pentecostals (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1972), pp. 140-48.

2. The necessity of “justifying” a new theological understanding is, of course, an issue for any kind of theological development. A recent example of this in Evangelical circles is related to the matter of the “secret rapture of the saints” associated with the rise of dispensationalism since the mid-1800s. George Ladd raised the historical/developmental issue in his book The Blessed Hope (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, l956), p. 19: “If the Blessed Hope is in fact a pretribulation rapture, then the church has never known that hope through most of its history, for the idea of a pretribulation rapture did not appear in prophetic interpretation until the nineteenth century. Pretribulationists are reluctant to admit this.” In reply, John F. Walvrood, The Rapture Question (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1957), p. 192 writes: “The detailed development of pretribulational truth during the past few centuries does not prove that the doctrine is new or novel. Its development is similar to that of other major doctrines in the history of the church.” He also deals with this matter in more detail earlier in the book, pp. 52, 53.

3. Philip Schaff, The Principle of Protestantism (Philadelphia: United Church Press, 1964), p. 177.

4. Schaff, p. 230, thesis 83.

5. Schaff, p. 219.

6. Obviously there are a number of other tasks which might be mentioned such as the early trinitarian reflections implicit in the Johannine Farewell Discourses or the incipient Gnosticism reflected in the Pauline letters.

7. Cf., Irenaeus’ concept. See Adolf Harnack, History of Dogma, trans. Neil Buchanan (New York: Dover, l961), II, p. 238.

8. David Wilkerson, The Vision (Grand Rapids: Revel, l973). The contents of this vision are quite in line with what might be expected from a pre-tribulation Pentecostal with some negative feelings about the Roman Catholic Church.

9. This review is restricted to an analysis of Pauline usage of apocalypsis in relation to charismatic manifestation. It excludes the more general usages and such issues as “general revelation.” Of course it is understood that the basic etymological meaning of “unveiling” stands behind all of its uses and points to perception of the hidden reality of spiritual things. For an exhaustive treatment of the broader background see Albrecht Oepke, ” ,” Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, tran. G. W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1965), III, pp. 563-92.

10. The meaning taken here is that reflected in the RSV “taking his stand on visions,” literally “upon that which he has seen (ha heoramen) puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind.”

11. See the perceptive discussion of this in an excellent book by James Dunn, Jesus and the Spirit (London: SCM, 1975), pp. 350-53.

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