A Brief Pentecostal Hearing of the Lectionary: Baptism of the Lord


Jesus baptism

The readings from the Revised Common Lectionary for this coming Sunday, January 7, 2018 offer an intriguing correlation for a Pentecostal hearing of these texts in harmony.

Genesis 1:1-5; Psalm 29; Acts 19:1-7; Mark 1:4-11.

The Genesis text describes the hovering of the divine Spirit over the waters at creation leading into the calling of “light” as “day” for that first day of creation.

The Psalm (being a Canaanite hymn cast into Yahwistic adulation) imagines Yahweh enshrined above the waters as king of all: in power and majesty.

Acts finds Paul leading the Ephesian water-baptized converts into Spirit inundation that Jesus might be demonstrated as Lord.

And the Gospel reading is Jesus’ water baptism leading to the Spirit alighting upon him with the Father’s blessings.

In each of these texts it is the Lord (as Spirit) who oversees the watery baptisms and leads from the abyss of cleansing into the life of the blessed Son who reigns supreme as the glorious light of Heaven. These texts intersect one another pointing to something which a Pentecostal hearing might enjoin as demonstrating the Full Gospel message of Jesus saving, sanctifying, baptizing in the Spirit, [and healing?] as king.

 

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Walter Hollenweger Memoriam

foto_hollenwegerIt is with a heavy heart I announce that the Swiss Pentecostal scholar Walter Hollenweger passed away August 10, 2016. His contributions to Pentecostalism are profound. One finds him footnoted throughout Pentecostal journals, theses/dissertations (including my own) and monographs. His vast publishing contributions fill 47 pages (a complete bibliography up to 2005 can be found HERE)! He was truly a global and ecumenical theologian worthy of emulation.
 
Hollenweger taught and promoted Pentecostal/charismatic (P/c) studies globally (and ecumenically) as a part of the University of Birmingham beginning in 1971 where he also later founded the Centre for Pentecostal and Charismatic Studies as a resource and training centre for such interests. His scholastic namesake, the Hollenweger Centre of the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, has also provided significant resources and supervision for many research projects and PhD students within P/c studies. While he has specifically contributed to P/c studies within the European context, these two Centres have impacted the globe via their significant collections and gathering of scholars as part of his vision to share the joy of studying such things as P/c history, theology, and practices. Hollenweger’s contributions to Pentecostals and Charismatics will be felt for many decades to come as a pioneer of P/c scholarship.

The Azusa Street Papers

IMG_1337One of my co-workers just found and gave me a copy of The Azusa Street Papers which is a reproduction of the thirteen issues of The Apostolic Faith (1906-1908) published by the Apostolic Faith Mission at Azusa Street (Los Angeles, CA) by William J. Seymour. It records countless testimonies of the redemptive and empowering work of the Lord Jesus from around the world as the Spirit was being poured out on all flesh. This journal was key in spreading the Pentecostal message in those early years connected to the revival at the Mission.

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William J. Seymour

While I typically give out down-sized copies from a PDF of the first several issues in my Pentecostal Heritage class, I was overjoyed to receive this volume that now allows me to show the students the papers in their original size and to personally own the papers (which are otherwise publicly available free of charge). This volume also includes a glossary of terms and an extensive index of terms and names.

Related to this, I would be remiss to not mention that one can access these papers (and many others at pentecostalarchives.org. This website is an invaluable tool for those interested in researching early Pentecostalism. It is a consortium of databases containing many of the periodicals and minutes of Pentecostal history. It also includes blog posts and book reviews on related subjects.

I have a strong interest in early Pentecostal literature for numerous personal reasons:

  • I am currently writing on the early Pentecostal interpretations of certain Biblical texts (Joshua through Kings),
  • I have taught a course numerous times on the history and theology of Pentecostalism/s,
  • I serve on the Library and Research Committee of the Society for Pentecostal Studies,
  • I find my own faith to be enlivened and challenged in the reading of these early works,
  • and I long for a wider audience to enjoy the benefit of open access to such resources.

All of this being said, if you have (or know of) any literature or audio/video materials related to early Pentecostalism I would encourage you to contact one of the organizations associated with the Consortium of Pentecostal Archives. Particularly the leading holder and purveyor of such: The Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center.

And thanks for the gift, Twyla! I am nerding out on early Pentecostal history. 🙂

Two Literary Women of Pentecost

As I pour over the early Pentecostal periodicals, I am struck that despite the many limitations concerning leadership placed upon women within Pentecostal fellowships, there were numerous women preachers and writers who were making profound impact for the Kingdom.

Several women appear throughout these journals: Pandita Ramabai receives mention for her work in India, Maria Woodworth-Etter was used mightily to heal the sick, and Aimee Semple McPhearson boldly preached the full gospel message. While these names at least bear mention in many volumes dealing with Pentecostal history (due to their public ministries), I am yet more impressed by, and grateful for, the literary work of the likes of two women I wanted to highlight that have impacted me as I work on my PhD studies: E.A. Sexton and A.R. Flower.

Elizabeth A. Sexton initially served as the associate editor for G.B. Cashwell’s Atlanta based journal Bridegroom’s Messenger (founded 1907), but in 1908 took the helm as editor until 1923  at which point she was followed by her daughter, Hattie M. Barth. These two women (along with Hattie’s husband, Paul) founded The Association of Pentecostal Assemblies in 1921 (later merging into The International Pentecostal Church of Christ which still maintains the Bridegroom’s Messenger as its official periodical).  She also was the impetus (and a founding trustee) for Hattie and Paul to launch a Pentecostal school in Atlanta known as Beulah Heights Bible Institute (now Beulah Heights University). Sexton gave voice to thousands of Pentecostals spread across the globe as she shared their articles, testimonies, and letters along with her own editorial works.

Alice Reynolds Flower
Alice Reynolds Flower

Another woman who has stood out in my research is Alice Reynolds Flower who, along with her husband J. Roswell, founded The Christian Evangel in 1913 (which later became The Pentecostal Evangel and the official publication of the Assemblies of God). She contributed the weekly Sunday school lessons in the Evangel along with providing numerous poems and books addressing spiritual matters. (HERE is an interview with her in 1980 by Delbert Tarr concerning the early years of the U.S. Pentecostal movement and the founding of the A/G).

These women are unsung champions of the Pentecostal faith. They wrote and edited works over those early formative decades to help spread the message of Jesus in His fullness as Savior, Sanctifier, Baptizer in the Holy Spirit, Healer, and Soon Coming King. And I, for one, am grateful for their faithful work and witness! May the Father raise up many more such daughters to carry forward His mission to the world!

A Brief Snake Handling Journey

I visited Tennessee this week to meet with my PhD supervisor (who is based in Cleveland even though my school is Bangor University, Wales). I had decided this visit that since I was “in the neighborhood” of the origins of the “serpent handler” churches, I’d like to visit the original site: Dolly Pond Church of God With Signs Following (you know its fun when a church name is that long).

As it happens, I also do a lecture on the origin and theology of snake handling for an undergraduate course I teach every Spring–Pentecostal Heritage. In part, I do this lecture as my final lecture of the semester in order to assure students will show up on the last day of class. I also do it because…well…its just plain fascinating to me and thus a fun way to end the course.

A Brief History of the Founder

The “founder” of snake handling churches, George Hensley, had been a moonshiner who came to the Lord at special meetings held by Homer Tomlinson just north of Cleveland, TN. Hensley took to preaching himself around Owl Hollow (eventually joining the Church of God Cleveland TN for a time) and was doing so on Mark 16:17-20, but some of his former moonshining buddies thought to scare off the meeting by tossing a box of poisonous snakes into their midst. While the congregation fled in terror, Hensley snatched up the snakes “like a boy would gather stovewood in his arms to carry into the house” (Tomlinson p. 41). This was apparently the beginning of Hensley handling serpents, but appears to have created quite a sensation throughout the region gaining the attention of A. J. Tomlinson. Of note is an invitation in 1914 by A. J. Tomlinson to Hensley to the General Assembly of the Church of God (Cleveland, TN) in order to demonstrate the handling of serpents. Hensley apparently had a difficult time in life as he was married four times and went back and forth preaching and handling snakes to making moonshine even spending time jailed for both practices (Olsen p.24). A not-so-surprising end, he died on July 24, 1955 as the result of a snake bite for which he denied medical care and was declared to have committed “suicide”.

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Snake handling service held in Lejunior, Harlan County, Kentucky at the Pentecostal Church of God, September 15, 1946 (National Archives and Records Administration, photo by Russell Lee)

My Surprises

I set up my visit to see the site of the Dolly Pond Church of God With Signs Following (Hensley’s church which was torn down decades ago). Church of God historian Dr. David Roebuck kindly arranged the trip north a half hour to Owl Hollow and Dolly Pond. As it turned out he had asked Bishop Wade Phillips to guide us. Bishop Phillips had just published the first volume of a series on the history of the Church of God and I was familiar with his work. This was a pleasant surprise tour guide.

We arrived at the site (where now a Church of God of Prophecy stands nearby) and saw something laying on what appeared to be the foundation of the Dolly Pond church we were looking for. It was a sloughed snake skin. A delightful find indeed. Especially as it was not a live snake. 🙂

 

 

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Sloughed snake skin on the “foundation” of the location of the Dolly Pond Church of God with Signs Following.

Naturally we posed with the serpent remains.

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Bishop Wade H. Phillips, Dr. David G. Roebuck, and myself (holding the sloughed snake skin we found)

While wandering around the site, Phillips mentioned that he had been told (some 20 years prior by a nearby neighbor) that there was a small gathering of graves up on a hill near where the church had stood. We climbed the hill in search of the graves of potential members of the Dolly Pond Church of God With Signs Following and were again delighted by our find. We found a grave of one “Minnie L. Harden” (maiden name of Parker) buried near her parents Ben and Maggie Parker.

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Minnie L. (Parker) Harden’s grave on the hill just up from the Dolly Pond Church of God with Signs Following
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Picture from W.H. Phillips, “Quest to Restore God’s House” p. 356.

As it turned out Minnie had been pictured in Phillips’ book Quest to Restore God’s House: A Theological History of the Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee) Volume 1, 1886-1923, where she has a rattlesnake draped across her forehead with the sign “The Dolley [sic] Pond Church of God With Signs Following” just over her shoulder.

While I know this is not a typical trip (for anyone), it was a fun historical adventure reminding me of locating historical figures and movements in their times and contexts. It also reminds me that even when I vehemently oppose a practice I can still appreciate the sense of experiencing the stories of others and how they may have handled issues of faith and practice.

Works Cited

Olsen, Ted. “They Shall Take Up Serpents,” Christian History 17.2 (May 1998): p.24.

Phillips, Wade H. Quest to Restore God’s House: A Theological History of the Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee) Volume 1, 1886-1923. Cleveland, TN: CPT Press, 2014.

Tomlinson, Homer A. “It Came to Pass in Those Days”: The Shout of a King. Queens Village, N.Y.: Church of God, U.S.A. Headquarters, 1968.

 

SPS 2017 Proposal Submitted

I just submitted my proposal for the 2017 Society for Pentecostal Studies annual meeting in St. Louis, MO. It is always a bit daunting preparing for a presentation at a scholarly society, but I have always found the effort well rewarded by the responses and engagement at the time of presentation. My title is Toward a Pentecostal Hermeneutic of the Former Prophets. Here is my proposal synopsis:

While there is no singular Pentecostal hermeneutic (nor a singular definition of ‘Pentecostal’), and some still persist in questioning whether there is or should be any, there are noticeable trends toward more clearly defined Pentecostal hermeneutics while still ‘in the making’. Perhaps this ‘still in the making’ is part and parcel of the Pentecostal’s sanctified/sanctifying interpretation. Claims to any form of Pentecostal hermeneutics must admit no ‘claim to possess a pristine and qualitatively unique methodology’. Instead, every hermeneutical approach (including those which might be called Pentecostal) is distinguished ‘by the presuppositions on which they build, the questions that they privilege, the interpretive tools they prefer, and the texts to which they attend’. Such a hermeneutical approach is perhaps properly always in the making as an improvisational performance of the Word by the Spirit within the community.

This paper briefly traces the four broad streams of historical development with the Pentecostal community’s hermeneutics as outlined by V. Kärkäinnen: Oral pre-reflexive, Fundamentalist-Evangelical, pneumatic exegesis and an emerging post-modern movement. This last movement is followed more closely as it unfolds in a triadic form in developing the hermeneutic suggestive by the text of the Former Prophets within the Pentecostal community taking into account the recent work on this trajectory by Scott Ellington, J. Christopher Thomas, Kenneth Archer, and Amos Yong (among others). A proposed phenomenological experience of the text by the Pentecostal community is offered toward a narrative approach to the text of the Former Prophets.

And in case you were wondering … “Former Prophets” refers to the books of the Hebrew Bible / Old Testament known as Joshua, Judges, 1-2 Samuel, and 1-2 Kings. 🙂

Testimony as Embedded Proclamation

testimonyHere is a bit from one of my graduate students (used by Matt Payne with permission) on engaging postmodernism as a Pentecostal church and preacher. How does one engage those who, at best, question the notion of the meta-narrative? How does one do so while pointing to the story of God’s redemption in Christ and testified to by the Spirit? Through testimony.

I would like to suggest that honest, theologically-sound testimony is essentially embedded proclamation, specifically as it bears witness to the ongoing work of Christ, proclaimed orally, in writing, graphically or otherwise. Furthermore, I would suggest that embedded proclamation constitutes a form of preaching (witness), though itself not found .[1] The activity of Christ, communicated faithfully by the witnessing community, performs the same function that liturgically embedded preaching does: it forms theology by communicating (as witness) what Christ has done and (prophetically) what can be expected of Christ in the future.[2]

To that end, Walter Brueggemann suggests that the essence of prophecy is “a sustained effort to imagine the world as though YHWH were a real character and the defining agent in the life of the world.”[3] Testimony performs the same function, though more concretely and in the past tense, much like Scripture.[4] If God heals someone, or delivers them miraculously from an addiction, it would stand to reason that those actions re-presented as testimony would serve as witness to the ontic reality of God’s presence, nature, mission, and proximity to humanity. Testimony is at once recollection of the deeds of God and prophecy of what He will do in the future, whether that’s healing, deliverance, the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, salvation, etc.

It is the very nature of testimony to subtly undermine other counter narratives. It does this by offering another world, as it were, and suggesting the potentiality of others entering that same experience and likewise be transformed.

This is precisely the kind of writing I LOVE to read from my students! I pray our testimonies may do just this!

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[1] Rick Wadholm Jr, “What is Preaching and What Makes it ‘Christian’?” a paper presented to The Socratic Club of Trinity Bible College and Graduate School Thursday, April 23, 2015.

[2] Revelation 19:10.

[3] Walter Brueggemann, The Practice of Prophetic Imagination: Preaching an Emancipating Word (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2012), 132.

[4] It could be argued that much of Scripture is in essence a series of testimonies. When considered in this light, it’s significant how much theology we distill not from explicit commands and propositions, but rather through our witness of God’s interaction with Israel and four author’s observations of Jesus’s earthly ministry.