Wednesday 30 May 2007

Encounters with tradition (1): from Pentecostal to Anglican?

A guest-post by Aaron Ghiloni

I did not leave Pentecostalism because I had somewhere else to go. I wasn’t conscripted by the Catholics or pursued by the Presbyterians. I left because I had to. Theologically frustrated, spiritually dry and emotionally exhausted, I quietly bid farewell.

Like many Pentecostals, I was nurtured in revival. From birth, I was born-again on a weekly basis (if not more frequently). This was my life, my family’s life. Therefore, departing was incredibly difficult. If you’ve gone through this, you will know what I mean. It was obvious that I must leave – still, leaving was gruelling.

And so, I not only left holy-rolling and tongue-talking behind, but also good friends and a lifetime of memories. I had nowhere to go. I shook, sighed, and swayed. The vertigo of an ex-Pentecostal is ferocious. Since my Pentecostal days I have worshipped with a Baptist congregation, studied at an evangelical seminary, and been employed by various churches (non-denominational, Methodist, and now Anglican).

I have gone from Pentecostalism to – what? Officially, I’m Anglican, but unofficially I’m undecided. I’m denominationally ambivalent. It’s not that I frivolously bounce about like an excited toddler or a volatile teen, but that for the formerly-staunch Pentecostal, traditions and denominations are greatly relativised. One can have only one first love. Once a Pentecostal, always a Pentecostal (at least in some ways).

Being a part of this or that movement is no longer that important. And while for career purposes I may identify myself with a particular church, it is not because they have won my devotion. I simply cannot change the fact that my heart beat the hardest and my blood pumped the fastest at an old Pentecostal altar.


David W. Congdon said...

Great post, Aaron. I can sympathize with being denominationally undecided. Since I go to a Presbyterian school, it's always awkward when people ask me what denomination I am affiliated with. I can only answer, none. Of course, in my case, I am unaffiliated both officially and unofficially, so it's an odd position to be in at a school like PTS.

Anonymous said...

So, Aaron, in your case one is seeing the collapse of one tradition as a "live option," without yet finding another as a spiritual home. That is hard. You are not a convert, but an exile--even if a voluntary one.

I hope you find, not another first love, but the tradition or branch of God's people to which you are called to serve--of whom you can say, "Yes, these are the people God has given me, warts and all." And I pray that you will be able to bring the strengths of Pentecostalism to them even as you leave its weaknesses behind.

Anonymous said...

A lovely, wistful post, Aaron. Thank you. It sounds like you suffered from charismatic burn-out, but that no other confession has really lit your fire. Clearly a "sounder" theolgy is in itself no substitute for passion. I am reminded of Augustine's image of the cor inquietum, denominationally applied.

On a lighter note, the picture reminds me of the joke about the caterer at a Pentecostal conference who enters a meeting room and asks, "Hands down for coffee?"

Anonymous said...

What I'd be interested in hearing is: why the Anglican tradition? It doesn't appear to quicken your pulse now, and it seems pretty removed from the Pentecostalism you left. Why not a more charismatic, less liturgical tradition? As an Anglican (likewise ambivalent), just curious.

James K.A. Smith said...

While I perhaps find more that is alluring about the particularities of the Anglican and Roman communions, I appreciate Aarons's reflections here. I, too, "left" Pentecostalism without really leaving. (To tweak a quip, "You can take the boy out of Pentecostalism but you can't take pentecostalism out of the boy.") While I had to leave the ecclesiastical structures of denominational Pentecostalism, I've never left the charismatic impetus of pentecostalism. What I think we need to recover (or forge?) is a sense of the catholicity of pentecostalism and the pentecostal character of catholicity. If Pentecost is the birth of the church, then Christianity is (and in another sense should be) essentially pentecostal.

I think the time is coming when we will be able to theologize constructively and unapologetically from a pentecostal/charismatic perspective (without being ignored as ignoramuses or paternalistically treated as quaint, exotic phenomena) Until then, may Aaron's tribe increase.

bls said...

Well, Anglicans can be "born again" weekly, too. We're just (usually) a lot quieter about it. It happens to me quite often, actually - and not necessarily on a Sunday, either.

I once read an article in which somebody said about Episcopalians that "we're all just a bunch of holy rollers at heart." That underneath our "cool and elegant" exterior lies a heart of fire. I find that to be true. It's subtle, but definitely there. Take a look at the words of our favorite Pentecost hymns:

"Come down, O love divine, seek Thou this soul of mine,
And visit it with Thine own ardor glowing.
O Comforter, draw near, within my heart appear,
And kindle it, Thy holy flame bestowing.

O let it freely burn, til earthly passions turn
To dust and ashes in its heat consuming;
And let Thy glorious light shine ever on my sight,
And clothe me round, the while my path illuming.

And so the yearning strong, with which the soul will long,
Shall far outpass the power of human telling;
For none can guess its grace, till he become the place
Wherein the Holy Spirit makes His dwelling.

Scott Savage said...

I relate to your comments about being born again each week. In many ways I am still getting over being 'born again' or 'saved' each year at church camp. Even as I was growing up I thought that there was something strangly inconsistent about having the same emotional 'experience' as the year before. Thanks for the post.


One of Freedom said...

Great post to kick off the series! I too relate to the post-pentecostal experience as my contribution to this series will show. One thing I never really had was a continual born again experience, and when I encountered it in Pentecostalism - in fact the very people dancing their hearts out in worship we getting "saved" all over again??? Well that was part of what really jarred my infatuation with the denomination I began my Christian walk with.

a. steward said...

Aaron -

Thanks for this. Leaving the pentecostal church that I went to for four years was one of the hardest things I've ever done. My experience was always that the movement of the holy spirit in a charismatic service never just bound you to God in an ethereal sense, but bound you in just as real a way to the people around you. I've never been able to relate to people like I did with friends who wept with me at the alter. The tough thing, though, is that this makes for a dangerous potential for abuse as leaders wield power through "spiritual gifts." And so stuff like that will happen, and it becomes clear that you just have to go. But these are friends that I miss badly.

::aaron g:: said...

Thanks to everyone for the kind feedback!

James – Yes, what is Christianity without Pentecost? I am surprised at the “anonymous Pentecostalism” of the many non-Pentecostals I’ve met on this journey. And for the Lindbeckism, well, I’m flattered!

Kerry– one reason I’m Anglican is because that is who employs me! Of course, there are other reasons but…

Anonymous said...

This post really resonated with me. I was raised in the pews of a Pentecostal church and I attended a Bible college that taught Pentecostal theology. I thought after graduation that I was fed out and worn down by Pentecostalism, only to realize that the only other option is homelessness.

kc bob said...

I suggest that the issue was not the spirit of pentcostalism that caused you to leave but the legalism of it. I know, I am a one-time Charismatic Fundamentalist :)

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