Friday, January 13, 2012

What happens at an Ordination?

Dear Rev. Know it all,
During priestly ordination, the Bishop places his hands on the head of the one to be ordained to fill him with the Holy Spirit. Nothing extraordinary visibly happens to the candidate for ordination. At certain meetings of the Charismatic Renewal, when the priest imparts the Holy Spirit for charismatic healing people are "slain by the Spirit" and fall unconscious for some time. Can you explain the difference?

Thank you and blessed New Year,
Mrs. Penny Quostal

Dear Mrs. Quostal,

The simple answer is that one (ordination) is a sacrament. The other (to be “slain in the Spirit”) is an experience.  Now, on to the complicated answer.
For those who are not aficionados of things charismatic, or as I prefer, Pentecostal, let me provide some background. In his first letter to the Corinthians, (12:7-11) St. Paul tells us that “...the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each for the good of all. To one is given the word of wisdom ... to another the word of knowledge ... to another another gifts of healing ... the working of miracles... prophecy…discerning of spirits... tongues and interpretation of tongues.  Phanerosis  is the  word in the text that means “manifestation.” “Charisma” is rendered “gift” and is used once referring to healing in the previous passage. “Manifestation” seems to refer to the whole list. Only healing is specifically called a gift. The Charismatic Renewal, so called, is specifically a renewal of the external manifestations of the Holy Spirit, not the gifts of the Holy Spirit, which are  Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel (Right Judgment), Fortitude (Courage),  Knowledge, Piety (Reverence), Fear of the Lord (Wonder and Awe).

I prefer the word “Pentecostal” to the word “charismatic.”  The gifts of the Holy Spirit have never been de-emphasized though manifestations have been. Pentecost, celebrated 50 days after the Passover, was the Jewish feast on which God’s power was made visible through the apostles by the gift of tongues. The purpose of the gift of tongues wasn’t to make the apostolic preaching of  the Gospel understandable to the assembled crowd of Jewish pilgrims, all of whom were Jews from around the world. The crowd  spoke Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic and possibly Latin. They had three or four languages in common. The marvel was that they heard the apostles speaking in the  languages of their respective places of residence. The Pentecostal gift of tongues was a prophetic manifestation of the Holy Spirit, telling the assembled crowd that the Gospel was universal, not just Jewish. It was a prophetic moment. The first Pentecost was a call to arms. The Church of Jesus would be missionary and universal (in Greek,“apostolikos” and “katholikos”) or Apostolic and Catholic. 

So what is Pentecost, Pentecostalism, Pentecostal churches, Charismatic Renewal and what is “slain in the Spirit?” It sounds frightening! Fasten your seat belts. This will take a while.

Modern Pentecostalism started as a movement. It ended as a church or perhaps I should say an “ecclesial community.”  Actually it ended with a lot of divided, theologically splintered churches. For the sake of precision I will use the word Pentecostal” or “Pentecost” referring to the movement of which I have been a part for 44 years. When I am speaking of those groups who have organized the brains out of the whole thing, I will use the words “Pentecostal church(es)” in the case of Protestants or “Charismatic Renewal” in the case of Catholics.

There have been many “Pentecostal” outpourings in the history of the Church. In 180AD, 150 years after the first Christian Pentecost, St. Irenaeus wrote about the visible manifestations of the Holy Spirit including the gift of tongues and healings. He taught that one way to tell the difference between gnostic heretics and Catholics was that the Catholic Church had the manifestations of the Spirit, especially the gift of healing. Another way was to find out whether the teacher in question  agreed with the bishop of Rome. The Gnostic heretics didn’t do either!  As the Church made its peace with the world and the Roman Empire,  the outward manifestations of the Spirit became common only in the lives of great saints, particularly monks. St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430 AD) thought that these wonders were meant only for the early Church to attract the world’s attention to the Gospel. He changed his mind when he saw a renewal of miracles in his own community. St. Francis of Assisi (1182-1226) and his followers seemed to manifest the Holy Spirit visibly including a sort of spontaneous prayer not unlike what modern Pentecostals and Charismatics call singing in tongues.

The current Pentecostal movement traces its beginnings back to New Year’s Eve, 1900. A  Methodist Bible College founded by Rev. Charles Parham of Topeka, Kansas, experienced what they believed to be an outpouring of the Holy Spirit. They claimed to have received a “baptism in the Holy Spirit” evidenced by the gift of tongues (“Baptism” is simply the Greek word for  “immersion” and “tongues” here refers to a kind of ecstatic speech.) This “Baptism in the Holy Spirit with the evidence of speaking in tongues” became the required norm for the Pentecostal churches. If you had not spoken in tongues, you did not “have the Holy Spirit.”  I have no idea how they came to this conclusion. It’s not in the Bible and is certainly not part of Christian tradition or Catholic faith. 

The classical Protestant churches, such as Presbyterian, Lutheran, Episcopalian, Baptist and even Methodist followed the Lutheran/Calvinist doctrine of dispensationalism, saying that God works one way in a certain age, or dispensation, of the world and differently in another age. Luther and classical Protestantism after him have maintained that the miraculous manifestations of the Holy Spirit were valid only for the initial spreading of the Gospel. “When the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.” (1Cor 13:10) They interpreted this to mean that when the last verse of Scripture was written, miracles were no longer necessary for the life of the Church. 

Catholics and orthodox Churches maintain that miracles are an integral part of the life of the Church. This meant that, in some ways, Pentecostalism with its belief in miracles, seemed more Catholic than it did Protestant. This is at the heart of an interesting problem. Pentecostalism is more Catholic than Protestant. The experience is very much like Catholic mysticism. The theology and ecclesiology that Protestants tacked on to the experience are a strange brew of Calvinism and Congregationalism.  Mainline Protestants vehemently and sometimes violently resisted Pentecostalism, so in April 1914, 300 Pentecsotals met in Hot Springs, Arkansas, and formed the Assemblies of God Church. The church then splintered into Independent Assemblies of God, that denied the authority of any church beyond the local congregation, foursquare church, the already extant and pentecostalized Church of God and on and on.

In 1967, at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, students who had been exposed to pentecostalism shared their experience with others at a retreat, from there the experience took root among the Catholics. That’s where I come in. In my misspent and liberal youth, I was on an ecumenical committee and thus made contact with what seemed to be the ultimate ecumenical movement: Pentecostal prayer meetings. When I came home from school, an 18-year-old who already knew that he knew it all, I told my parents that I had experience a Baptism in the Holy Spirit and that you could have a personal relationship with Christ, that God spoke prophetically in our times and that He worked miracles and healed the sick. They said, “We are Catholics and we’ve always believed these things and are glad that you finally agree with us.” That took all the wind out of my sails and I realized that I was still a Catholic and always would be.

Pentecost is not a theology or an organization. It is an experience. We used to call ourselves Catholic Pentecostals, until 1983 when Jimmy Swaggart, an ordained minister of the Assemblies of God church, the largest single Pentecostal church, wrote “A Letter to my Catholic Friends” which essentially said you couldn’t be saved and Catholic at the same time. I remember it well. At that point the whole Pentecostal movement foundered. The Catholic Pentecostals responded “If you are going to beat us with your Bibles, we’ll strangle you with our Rosaries.” I suspect that the Holy Spirit got disgusted with the whole thing and took a much needed vacation.   

I remember a great gathering of Pentecostal/ Charismatic ministers and group leaders in New Orleans in 1988. Perhaps I have the date wrong, but I will never forget the event, organized by Dr. Vinson Synan. It was, by my lights, the last high water mark of the Pentecostal movement before much of it dissolved into silly emotionalism and strange theologies. Brother Swaggart had been invited to participate in the conference that we all thought would be pleasing to God. He refused to participate because he would not stand on the same stage with Catholics. Apparently he was busy that weekend at the Travel Inn Motel, also in New Orleans. He was ultimately de-frocked by the Assemblies of God and started his own church. 

This event is almost forgotten by the historians of religion. I believe it is one of the most important events in the history of Catholicism. Jimmy Swaggart was an amazing preacher and was expertly dubbed in Spanish and Portuguese. He was well financed and widely heard throughout Latin America, so much so that Latin America was at the point of abandoning the Catholic faith. I used to irritate my confreres in the Spanish-speaking apostolate by calling Brother Swaggart the most popular theologian in Latin America, which he most certainly was. His hobbies, which seem to have continued, ended all that. It also ended any real progress in grass roots ecumenism. 

So what is “pentecostalism?” It is the experience of Pentecost, an immersion in and a  manifestation of the power of God to change lives. It is not perfect. “For we know in part and we prophesy in part.” (1Cor.13:9) It is part me and part God, unlike Christ who was completely God and completely man. It needs authority. It is the manifestation of God’s presence filtered through sinners like me. It  often involves ecstatic speech call glossolalia, also called speaking in tongues, or by prophetic speech or healing. When it is subject to the appropriate authority, the Church established by Christ, it can be a very fine thing. When it is not, it is dangerous and divisive. When it is simply the experience, stripped of the add-ons of bad theology, it is a renewal of our calling to be missionaries in our daily life.

(You will notice that, at this point, the Rev. Know-it-all has completely failed to answer the question. He has not even defined what it means to be “slain in the Spirit.” That’s because, as usual he is far from finished on the topic.)

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