The Threat of Stagnation
Every religious movement which has ever begun since the birth of humanity faces coming to a place of stagnation or decline when it foolishly clings to ancient ideas and refuses to make inroads into the present and future.
Christendom has seen many movements since the birth of the church; ranging from Gnosticism, Lutheranism, and Calvinism, to Wesleyanism, and Pentecostalism. Most of these same movements today would have to acknowledge that they are by no means experiencing the same level of enthusiasm and growth they did when they first appeared on the world religious scene. Inflexibility and a failure to treat the Word of God as a living, breathing document that is able to respond to and expand as humanity's condition becomes more and more clearly understood has lent itself to the stagnation and decline of their membership. They may even be facing the eventual possibility of extinction.
What is Progress?
Progress implies a positive movement in a forward direction. The Pentecostal movement, now a century old, faces the same eventual dilemma as every other major Christian movement - stagnation and spiritual death. Even today many, if not most, Pentecostal churches are no where near experiencing the kind of explosive move of God that was common in the early years of this dynamic spiritual renewal. Many "overeducated" and "professional" ministers occupy the pulpits today which were once reserved only for anointed and sincere men of God who had spent time and tears finding a word from the Lord to deliver to their flocks. They've come to accept whatever doctrine or teaching their denomination and seminary offers them as truth, rather than
being sincere students of the Word of God, led by the Spirit, motivated by a hunger for truth.
Some call this progress because it has allowed the Pentecostal movement to become much more acceptable to mainstream society. But is acceptability our goal? Is it not the purpose of the church to bring this great Gospel message of Jesus Christ to every corner of the globe before His imminent return?
Where's the Threat?
What are the potential causes of our ultimate spiritual demise? This movement has done more to alienate and discourage more of it's converts than most movements seen within Christianity over the last two millennium. Pentecostal churches have often been seen as looking down upon the role of the woman within the church, subordinating her and making her a second class citizen beside her husband. It has also alienated many groups of people who identify with certain "sins" such as the divorced, divorced and remarried, the homosexual, the alcoholic, etc.
Pentecost has built a reputation of holiness and sanctification, and it has been common therefore for local churches and organizations to regularly conduct "witch hunts", looking for "secret sins" and making accusations to bring these "sins" to light. In the process of doing this, however, many good and sincere believers have been forced from the fellowship of God's people and many find it hard, if not impossible to return because of the sense of humiliation and alienation that they've come to know.
Pentecost has built it's "holiness" reputation on guilt and condemnation rather than on the truth of Holy Ghost conviction of sin. Most preachers seem to think that if they don't preach their saints into hell every Sunday, they won't know how to make it into Heaven should the Lord come on Monday. There has been very little actual reliance upon and confidence in the Holy Spirit within the Pentecostal movement. We have done the Spirits' job, preaching and teaching people into a helpless sense of guilt and despair, leaving little or no room for individuals to "work out their own salvation with fear and trembling." (Philip. 2:12)
Caught In The Act!
If the woman caught in the very act of adultery were brought before the majority of Pentecostal people today, faced with the same legal code that the Lord's contemporaries quoted to Him, they would simply have responded, "Well, do what you've got to do." Look at the callous attitude of so many Christians in this country toward the death penalty issue. In spite of the fact that they know death brings eternal judgment, many believers around the nation heartily endorse killing criminals. So long as there is life, there is hope of conversion and turning from sin. Even the infamous "Son of Sam" serial killer is a life-term prisoner serving the Lord.
Keeping Israel Pure...
The purpose of the harsh law and punishments found in the Jewish law of Moses was to keep Israel as a nation pure. This woman, although "unclean" according to the law was allowed to live and thus allowed to remain a part of the nation of Israel. What a lovely lesson in grace! Jesus Christ clearly teaches that the Law of Grace and Liberty requires that we permit the wheat and the weeds to grow up together until his return, at which time HE shall separate the true from the untrue. (Matthew 13:30) Why has He said this? It's simple, because we most often would be WRONG in our assessment of what is weed and what is wheat. God sees so much more clearly than we the condition of an individuals heart that He alone is able to make that eternity-affecting call. "...for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart." (I Sam. 16:7)
The Lord Himself is said to be the husbandman in the vineyards we call the church (John 15:1-6). If there are dangerous tares in need of being torn up and removed, He, the Scripture declares will do so. What little confidence we have in God when we think we mere mortals must do his work for Him. In the process of doing so,we have hurt, forced into backsliding, and even pressured into false religious movements people who once loved the Lord and desired to serve Him. They just didn't meet our perceived criteria of godliness or perfection.
I have seen the Lord remove individuals from churches who were disruptive and destructive, without the pastor or congregation having to do or say a word. Some have literally dropped dead of heart attacks. What a shame that we do not trust God to determine who belongs in His fellowship and who does not.
Progress can only be made by going back and taking a look at the methods we have been using. The message of Christ's gospel will never change, but our methods of delivering it must. We must learn to deliver His message the way that He did. In their humanity, even the apostles at times were impaired in their ability to effectively deliver the wonderful message of the Gospel. Gospel means "good news." When is the last time you heard a Pentecostal preacher preach "good news." If the Pentecostal movement is to move forward, thus making progress, there are some lessons it must learn and some policies it must implement universally.
Eliminate Male Dominance
Firstly, the Pentecostal movement must step up to the level of Biblical interpretation and understanding where "there is neither male nor female in the kingdom of God." (Gal. 3:28) Women are every bit as qualified, called, anointed, and capable of every aspect of ministry and work in the church as are men. In some cases even more so! We must recognize this truth and put it to good use, instead of clinging to the ancient patriarchal systems as the apostles apparently unwittingly did.
Adopt Inclusive Policies & Attitudes
Secondly, we must adopt an attitude of inclusion and acceptance for all who would desire to know God and to serve Him. We must stop "spot checking" people at the door of the church and inquiring as to their sexual orientations, addictions, and marital status. If they've a desire to be a part of God's church and worship and serve Him, they have a right and a rightful place in God's family. The Scripture makes it clear, "Let everything that hath breath praise the Lord..." (Psalm 150:6)
Preach The Gospel, Not "Issues"
Preaching against this issue or that, because you have a sense that the "sin" you are harping on is one with which someone you see may be dealing, must end. We have forced more honest, sincere, hungry seekers from our midst through such ignorant and less-than-spiritual tactics. Preach the "Good News" of Christ and Him crucified. Let the Lord give you a message. He'll always give an uplifting, positive, inspirational, faith building, and hope inspiring word anchored squarely in the cross of Calvary. "For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God." I COR. 2:2, 4-5 NKJV
Preach Salvation, Healing, & Deliverance
Most Pentecostal churches today seldom see a miracle, whereas a century ago they were common place. Why is this? It's simple, we've become so preoccupied preaching against people that we've failed to preach simple salvation (Acts 2:38), healing, deliverance from demons, and the infilling of the Holy Ghost. When we, in faith, preach these things; God does these things to confirm our preaching! "And these signs shall follow those who believe: In my name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means harm them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover." "And they went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the Word through the accompanying signs." MARK 16:17-18, 20 NKJV Have you seen any signs lately?
Eliminate Organizational Segregation
The Church of Jesus Christ is still greatly seen as a segregated entity. Black organizations exist over here, while primarily white organizations are over there. Most of the major Pentecostal denominations in the world today which are primarily white have yet to ever elect or appoint men of color or minority status to district, state, or national leadership positions, except where large numbers of minority members or churches exist. A black overseer is fine where you have several black churches, but, if the churches in a given state are mostly white God forbid the State Overseer should be black. Why not? Are we not all "one body in Christ and members in particular?" (I Cor 12:27) Or, is this merely something we say, but don't really believe.
I have served under black leadership without the slightest bit of concern. Why? Because we preached the same message and were working toward the same goals. The Black ministry, in particular, could teach much of us a thing or two about a great number of things, particularly effective fund raising and tolerance for the people's humanity.
What Then Is Progressive Pentecost?
Progressive Pentecostal ministries are those which have adopted affirmative and restorative policies. They are oblivious to gender, skin color, race, and sexual orientation. Their only goal is to minister to and assist every sincere believer in the Lord Jesus Christ to find their way clear to God by providing them with sound teaching, inspiring preaching, pastoral care, Christian family, and fellowship. They believe that God is able to convict of sin and change those things in any life that He deems needful of change. A progressive church will affirm the divorcee, the homosexual, the addicted, and the outcast. They do not insist upon change, but rather accept every individual as they are, understanding that complex issues of life and human sexuality are not easily answered by careless Biblical interpretation, but careful study and examination.
A progressive Pentecostal church will offer opportunity and advancement to all of it's member without any regard as to race, gender, lifestyle, or socioeconomic status. It will seek only to build up and restore that which has been torn down. And it will be ever mindful that words, actions, and careless policies often lend themselves to the destruction of human souls.
You may have grown up within a Pentecostal church like myself, but now find yourself far from it's fellowship Let me challenge you with this - you can make progress in your journey with the Lord. You can step up higher than many of those ignorant, bigoted, homophobic church members and preachers who in the past have injured you. You can be a Progressive Pentecostal!