The tongues of Pentecost: a Pentecostal perspective on the promise and challenge of Pentecostal/Roman Catholic dialogue.
The documents and articles that have emerged from the three quinquennia of dialogue since 1972 reveal some understanding between Pentecostals and Roman Catholics of possible convergences and divergences on several issues, such as scripture, worship, and koinonia.(2) Despite the dialogue, Pentecostals who participate must still do so in the shadow of misunderstandings and criticisms from Pentecostal leadership and laity. Cecil M. Robeck, Jr., has described the barriers that Pentecostals have sought to erect in order to block the way to ecumenical discussion with Roman Catholics.(3) Now that a North American series of ecumenical meetings between Pentecostals and Roman Catholics has begun as a complement to the ongoing international dialogue, a Pentecostal theological reflection on the future promise and challenge of such ecumenical encounters seems more important than ever before. At the base of this reflection is the question of the theological issues at stake for Pentecostals in continuing and cultivating the dialogue with Roman Catholics. What is it about our piety and theology that compels us ahead in a dialogue that is so sharply criticized by the leadership of our Pentecostal churches? What promise and challenge might such a dialogue pose for Roman Catholics?
A Vision for Pentecostal Ecumenism in the Tongues of Pentecost
It is quite natural for a Pentecostal to begin a discussion of the promise and challenge of Pentecostal/Roman Catholic dialogue with the "tongues of Pentecost." After all, the Pentecostal movement is noted for its accent on what Hendrikus Berkhof termed the neglected "third element" beyond the duplex gratia of justification and sanctification: empowerment for witness in the world, such as we have featured in Acts 2 on the Day of Pentecost. The baptism in the Holy Spirit as a post-conversion empowerment for gifted service, especially as evidenced by speaking in tongues, was at least the most controversial and, therefore, outstanding distinctive of classical Pentecostalism at the beginning of the movement. The prodigium (astounding sign) of the Spirit's empowerment in tongues worship featured in Acts 2 and the credibility it gained from the sanctified lives of those who bore witness to Christ have been honored by most Pentecostals as valuable distinctives.
More recently, however, scholars of Pentecostalism, such as Donald Dayton, have shifted the popular focus on tongues as the distinctive of Pentecostalism to an overall Gestalt of spirituality that strives for a holistic or "full" gospel. For Pentecostals, this gospel includes conversion, Spirit baptism, bodily healing, and an eschatological expectation for the imminent return of Christ. This more holistic doctrinal approach to defining Pentecostalism is important for understanding the diverse theological roots of the Pentecostal movement in the Holiness movement of the nineteenth century.(4)
Walter Hollenweger, however, believes that this ideengeschichtliche (idea-historical) approach is not adequate by itself. Fundamental for Hollenweger is the realgeschichtliche understanding of Pentecostalism, which focuses on the actual spirituality of the movement. In the case of Pentecostalism, Hollenweger finds a catholic spirituality mediated through Wesleyanism, renewed by an African oral liturgy and expression of Christian identity through the story, the vision, and prayers for bodily healing. The emphasis on prayer for bodily healing has implications for a possible effort to overcome the Western dualism between spirit and matter and to replace it with a holistic spirituality that proceeds from an integration of body and soul, nature and spirit, or society and person. According to Hollenweger, this unique wedding of Catholic and African spiritualities may serve to provide one reason for the appeal of Pentecostalism in the Third World, and it explains the ecumenical significance of the movement. Hollenweger noted that the greatest weakness of classical Pentecostalism has been its failure to realize its potential for ecumenical diversity.(5) In the words of Robeck, Pentecostalism is ecumenical and multicultural, though much of the movement does not yet realize it.(6)
Tongues are a vital part of the holistic Pentecostal response to the Spirit of God. Though Pentecostals are quick to note that they do not make tongues as important as many seem to assume,(7) they are also quick to add that they are "willing to suffer reproach and loss for the sake of the wonderful privilege of receiving the Holy Spirit in the way the hundred and twenty did at Pentecost."(8) Tongues of fire represent a cherished symbol in much of the Pentecostal movement.
Tongues and the Scandal of Complacent Sectarianism
Yet, there is good reason for Pentecostals to feel uneasy with the tongues of Pentecost. Indeed, Pentecost does not belong to just the Pentecostals. The event of Pentecost by nature resists domestication as a metaphor that inspires the narratives of just one movement or segment of the people of God. Pentecost is an ecumenical event. It should make Pentecostals feel uneasy and insecure within the closet of Pentecostal piety. It urges them to come out of that closet and to discover "pentecostalism" in communions other than their own, especially in ways unfamiliar to them. It reminds them that being Pentecostal in the full sense of the word means transcending the boundaries of the Pentecostal movement in directions unexpected and quite dramatic. It means, in part, facing the ecumenical promise and challenge implied in the presence of the Roman Catholic Church.
In tension with the ecumenical potential of Pentecostalism is its designation as a "sectarian" movement. The term "sectarian" must be used cautiously with regard to the Pentecostal movement because of the possible association of this term with a departure from the historic affirmations of the Christian faith, which would not be an adequate description of Pentecostalism. Moreover, the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements have shown the classical church/sect typology to be inadequate as a description of the complex relationship between institution and charisma in the church. Pentecostalism has had a tendency toward sectarianism if this is understood as separatism in relation to the church and the world. "Sectarianism" understood as a free-church movement with separatist tendencies can be an accurate description of Pentecostalism. In a positive vein, such sectarianism implies the existence historically of Pentecostalism as a marginalized movement containing elements of prophetic insight and criticism valuable for the whole people of God. However, this sectarianism also stands in considerable tension with the ecumenical meaning of a Pentecostal identity that is true to Pentecost. There is an inherent tension in the dual identities of "sectarian" and "Pentecostal" under which Pentecostal theologians work that cannot be ignored and that encourages the kind of ecumenical dialogue that Pentecostals and Roman Catholics have enjoyed for over twenty-five years. They share a journey toward the eschatological horizon that offers the only hope for ultimate resolution of this tension.
Pentecost resists a sectarianism that seeks to avoid the scandal of the church's visible cultural and ecclesiastical divisions. In Acts, the story that proceeds from the Day of Pentecost incorporates both male and female prophets, rich and poor, and young and old (2:17-18). Gentiles are united with Jews, and the followers of John the Baptist are joined with the followers of Jesus (10:19). Cultural and religious diversity is swept up into the unifying work of the Spirit. Acts does not speak of the unity of the "people of God" in some abstract or generic sense; true to Joel 2, Acts 2 speaks of this unity in a way that has social, cultural, and religious specificity, taking into consideration the seemingly insurmountable barriers that seemed to stand in the way of the unifying power of the Spirit of God. The visible disunity of diverse groups is considered a scandal in Acts; the goal of the Spirit is the unification in Christ of these people in the midst of the specific diversity in which they find themselves and must continue to find themselves.(9)
In Acts 2, tongues are described at length as the most "striking" sign of the Spirit's presence at Pentecost. Tongues are also mentioned at the decisive entry of the gentiles into the same prophetic movement of the Spirit in Acts 10. Acts 10:46 mentions tongues as the sign that implied the presence of the same Spirit among the gentiles that was experienced among the Jewish-Christian community at the beginning. Tongues seemed to function for Luke as a very important audible sign that connected the Jewish and gentile experiences of the Spirit. Pentecostals are not the only ones who have noted the special place that Luke gives tongues as a striking sign of the Spirit in Acts.(10)
The great prodigium of Pentecost, tongues of fire, symbolizes this unity in diversity that is gradually revealed in the story of Acts and prevents Pentecostals and all Christians from ignoring the scandal of divisions among the people of God. Karl Barth expressed this scandal quite well:
There is no justification theological, spiritual or biblical for the existence of a plurality of Churches genuinely separated in this way and mutually excluding one another internally and therefore externally. A plurality of Churches in this sense means a plurality of lords, a plurality of spirits, a plurality of gods. . . . There may be good grounds for the rise of these divisions. There may be serious obstacles to their removal. There may be many things which can be said by way of interpretation and mitigation. But this does not alter the fact that every division as such is a deep riddle, a scandal. And in the face of this scandal the whole of Christendom should be united in being able to think of it only with penitence, not with the penitence which each expects of the other, but with the penitence in which - whatever may be the cost - each is willing to precede the other.(11)
Barth continued by stating that one who is complacent in the face of divisions in the church and who feels securely justified in maintaining them because of alleged faults and errors of the others "may be a good and loyal confessor in the sense of his own particular denomination, he may be a good Roman Catholic or Reformed or Orthodox or Baptist, but he must not imagine that he is a good Christian." Such a complacent person does not in Barth's view confess the una ecclesia. "For the una ecclesia cannot exist if there is a second or third side by side with or opposed to it. It cannot exist in opposition to another Church. It cannot be one among many."(12) For Barth, there was no escaping this scandal of the visible divisions of the people of God through a flight into an indeterminate "invisible church."(13) Such an escape, with all of the feelings of disgust and superiority that go into it, ignores the import of the great sign of diverse but unified tongues on the Day of Pentecost. It ignores the reality of the specific and visible barriers to communion that the story of Acts claims in no uncertain terms had to fall when the Spirit worked in great power. The people of God were compelled to accept this unifying work of the Spirit, though they did so at times with some struggle and trepidation. As Heinrich Fries and Karl Rahner noted, "The Spirit is the guarantee of constantly new fundamental changes and initiatives in the Church. The Spirit is the guarantor . . . that the Church always remain a "becoming event"(14)
Tongues and the Scandal of Complacent Catholicism
If the sign of tongues at Pentecost resists a complacent sectarianism, it also resists an evasion of the scandal of division through a complacent "catholicism." Though the tongues of Acts 2 were diverse and, according to Luke, represented "every nation under heaven" (2:5), the diverse audience to whom the tongues were directed at Pentecost did not include Samaritans or gentiles. Those present were diaspora Jews from every nation (2:5) who were probably already residents of Palestine. As Barth noted concerning Acts 2, "The new language is spoken by Israel, . . . even if only the Israel of the dispersion."(15) The list of languages in Acts 2, most of which were provinces and lands, seems to have been selected because of the large Jewish population of each location.(16)
The text of Acts 2 gives hints of a tongues event that is as significant as an indication of the current lack of unity of the people of God as it is symbolic of future realizations of unity that are yet unforeseen. Hence, Russell Spittler has rightly referred to tongues as "a broken speech for a broken body of Christ until perfection comes."(17) Tongues are a sign of our fragmentation and a promise of reconciliation. Tongues reflect the struggle and the hope, the tears and the joy. Implied is a catholicity that is ultimately eschatological, representing an ongoing challenge to realize the unity and life of God that is never possessed this side of eternity. Paul is one with Luke in recognizing that the catholicity of the people of God is eschatological (Eph. 4). From this, Luke accents the ongoing efforts by the people of God to redefine their identity in light of an ever-expanding catholicity.
Definitions of the term "catholic" are numerous and represent part of the ecumenical challenge facing the churches.(18) In short, the term "catholic" usually carries qualitative and/or quantitative implications. Qualitatively, the term can denote the fullness of grace, truth, or spiritual gifts. Such fullness can be located fundamentally in the eucharist but not exclusively so. Though catholicity is not part of the language of faith among Pentecostals, the term, qualitatively defined, would be located by Pentecostals primarily in the experience of the Holy Spirit in Spirit-filling or empowerment, usually as evidenced in the outward sign of glossolalia. More specifically, Pentecostals would locate catholicity in the presence of Christ through the Spirit. They would agree with Ignatius that "[W]herever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic church."(19)
Early on, the term "catholic" also took on a quantitative dimension, as "the whole Catholic Church throughout the world."(20) Cyril of Jerusalem combined the qualitative with the quantitative by stating that the catholic Church "is called catholic because it is spread throughout the world" and because it "teaches universally and completely all the doctrines," "subjects to right worship all humankind," and "possesses in itself every conceivable virtue, whether in deeds, words or in spiritual gifts of every kind."(21)
The history of the term "catholic" and the ecumenical problems involved in interpreting the diverse realities signified by this term are subjects that require exploration beyond the boundaries of this discussion. In a focus on the difficulties involved in Pentecostal/Roman catholic exchange, dialogue is needed to explore the meaning of Cyril's conviction that the church "possesses in itself every conceivable virtue." This can be interpreted in the direction of a realized eschatology and a complacent "catholicism" that assumes the fullness of Christian truth and virtue within a particular communion, whether these be a guaranteed "possession" through the hyper-spiritual experiences of Pentecostals or through the apostolic succession of the Roman pontiff. How the eschatological criticism and reservation essential to the gospel might call into question or revise this language of "fullness" as a "possession" of the people of God is a problem facing both Pentecostals and Catholics.
With Vatican II, the Roman Catholic Church clarified its position on catholicity in some promising ways. Most significant is the recognition of elements of catholicity outside the visible boundaries of the Catholic Church among separated brothers and sisters: the written Word of God; the life of grace; and faith, hope, and charity, along with other interior gifts of the Spirit. These elements can contribute to the edification of the Catholic Church.(22) If non-Catholic churches bear witness to genuine elements of catholicity, are not these churches essential to the Catholic Church's realization of catholicity? Implying an affirmative answer to this question, the "Decree on Ecumenism" stated further that the "separated brethren" prevent the Catholic Church "from effecting the fullness of catholicity proper to her."(23)
This recognition of catholicity outside the Roman Catholic communion is confirmed in a draft of an address by Pope John Paul II at the 1980 Jubilee celebration of the Augsburg Confession, which included the following written, though unspoken, statement: "The Spirit of God has allowed us to recognize anew that as long as the church has not realized the fullness of its God-willed catholicity there are authentic elements of Catholicism existing outside its visible community."(24) Fries and Rahner concluded from this written statement that a unification of sorts between the Roman Catholic and separated churches is possible without the dissolution of these churches with their distinctives. Such churches would be able to remain distinct churches in unification.(25) The implications in this insight important for our discussion will be developed below.
The above statements imply that catholicity is an imperfect and fragmented reality because of divisions among the churches. It would seem then that catholicity is, in a sense, a relational reality that cannot exist fully in one church in isolation from others. The "Decree on Ecumenism" held the unfathomable riches of Christ that are at the heart of catholicity to be deeply probed by the "fraternal rivalry" of ecumenical dialogue with other churches.(26) As the separated churches strive toward unity with the Catholic Church, the identity of both will be somewhat challenged and revised.
In tension with such implications, however, the "Decree on Ecumenism" stated that the elements of catholicity in separated churches "derive their efficacy from the very fullness of grace and truth entrusted to the Catholic Church." It stated further that "it is through Christ's Catholic Church alone, which is the all-embracing means of salvation, that the fullness of the means of salvation can be obtained." Christ established this Catholic Church by entrusting all of the blessings of the covenant "to the apostolic college alone, of which Peter is the head."(27) These qualifications must be understood within the complex assumptions involving interconnected aspects of Catholic ecclesiology, such as the church as the visible presence of the resurrected and ascended Sovereign, apostolic succession, and the incarnate presence of Christ in the sacramental life of the church.
Implied is the assumption that, although the fullness of grace and truth essential to catholicity have been entrusted to the Roman Catholic Church, this Church cannot "effect" catholicity in visible form without the unity of separated churches and, we should add, the missionary outreach to the entire oikoumene. Yet, is it meaningful to speak of catholicity that is in some sense possessed but not yet effected in reality? We are dealing here with the issue of how to express theologically the living presence of God and of Christ through the Spirit in the midst of the people of God in a way that does not avoid the full implications of the eschatological and ecumenical nature of catholicity.
In an effort, in part, to be true to his Pentecostal heritage, Miroslav Volf views catholicity as the eschatological gathering of the people of God and their full participation at that time in the intratrinitarian fellowship of God. Individuals and local churches can have experiences through the Spirit that are analogous to this final catholic reality, but this reality is not realized until the eschaton. Local churches can also create such analogies in solidarity with other churches. In light of the eschatological nature of catholicity, Volf has resisted a realized eschatology that erroneously implies the possession of catholicity this side of eternity.(28) His arguments need to be viewed in light of Catholic efforts to view catholicity in an eschatological context. Indeed, Catholics and Pentecostals have agreed that the church is "a sign of the eschatological unity" to which the people of God are called and functions as a "counter sign" in its divisions.(29)
Such an agreement between Pentecostals and Roman Catholics is significant. Pentecostals are not immune to the temptation of wanting to possess the fullness of catholicity in separation from other churches. In tension with our historic tendency to stress the eschatological realization of the blessings of God, we sometimes speak of "having" the "fullness" of the Spirit in distinction from other churches that must remain satisfied with a more rudimentary experience of the Spirit. Instead of serving as a "sacramental" sign of both our fragmentation as the people of God and of the challenge of unity, tongues often serve as "evidence" that we have arrived. Much more dialogue is needed between Pentecostals and Catholics on the issue of catholicity with attention to the "now" and the "not yet" of its actualization. Such work has not yet been done.
Pentecostals will be prone to find in a few of the statements in the "Decree on Ecumenism" disturbing ideas of a "Rome-centered" catholicity that strives for unity by calling the wayward churches "back home." Such Catholic theologians as Rahner and Dulles have tried to respond to such misgivings with their emphasis on a reconciled diversity of churches that maintain their distinctives as individual church traditions while still respecting the Petrine office as the chief protector of faith and unity. Even Pannenberg finds this option attractive, arguing that the pope should begin to make the unity of Christendom his primary concern and to consider the needs and problems, as well as the valuable contributions, of separated churches.(30) This issue must be discussed, even though Pentecostals would not support an organizational unity under one central ecclesiastical authority.(31) Though the obstacles to unity seem insurmountable, Pentecostals must proceed beyond the goal of a better understanding of Roman Catholics to the fulfillment of Jesus' prayer in Jn. 17 that all God's children bear a unified witness to the world.
Pentecostals must certainly be open to learn from the complex approaches to catholicity in the context of Catholic dogma and the diverse theological discussions of these among Catholic theologians. In Acts 2, tongues are not the only sign of catholicity. There are also apostolic teaching and the breaking of bread (2:42). Though these avenues of the Spirit's work among the people of God are not foreign to Pentecostals, they do achieve a renewed sense of depth and urgency when viewed from the vantage point of Catholic dogma and theology. In other words, our self-definition as Pentecostals is challenged when we realize that a Catholic presentation on ecumenism could have been just as compelling as a witness to scripture from a eucharistic center as this discussion from the vantage point of glossolalic prayer. Hans Urs von Balthasar's notion of the eucharist of the "pneumatic Lord" can be a topic for Pentecostal/Catholic dialogue, as well as Moltmann's ecumenism "under the cross," which is expressed in the eucharist and, we can add, in glossolalic prayer (Rom. 8:26).(32)
Though very different in symbolism and theological implications, the two vantage points of tongues and the eucharist are related. While visiting a Pentecostal church, Simon Tugwell remarked that he felt most at home during a message in tongues because it was the most "sacramental" part of the service for him.(33) Tongues occasion an intense awareness in Pentecostal worship services of the presence of God to redeem and to edify. Richard Baer has noted that both tongues-worship and Catholic liturgy assume a response to God that is too deep for rational discourse, since both are connected with the mystery of the divine presence in ways that are dramatic, not primarily verbal or rational.(34) Both tongues and the eucharist point to an experience of the Spirit of unity that can never be expressed adequately in rational discourse. There is potential here for ecumenical exchange to be delivered from the "tyranny of words" and to find the freedom to explore on occasion the deeper levels of prayer and testimony.(35)
We cannot overestimate the importance of spirituality in ecumenical encounters with Pentecostals. As Hocken has noted, it is not coincidental that the Pentecostal openness to ecumenical dialogue first occurred through the influence of the Charismatic movement, particularly from Catholics who were willing to share heartfelt testimonies and prayers with Pentecostals.(36) After all, the majority of Pentecostals are more deeply critical of alleged spiritual atrophy in the Catholic Church than they are of assumed dogmatic errors, especially since most Pentecostal ministers are not theologically trained.(37) Therefore, rational discourse about dogma, as vital as this is, should not dominate the exchange between Pentecostals and Roman Catholics to the near exclusion of joint worship, which has already been a part of the Pentecostal/Roman Catholic dialogue.
Joint worship and discussion may in time expose a difference in orientation between the "theophanic" spirituality that is favored by Pentecostals and symbolized in tongues and the "incarnational" spirituality that is implied in sacramental theologies. The theophanic approach to pneumatology emphasizes the eschatological in-breaking of the Spirit with signs and wonders that are extraordinary, unpredictable, and radically new. The distinction that Pentecostals have traditionally made between initiation and Spirit-empowerment for gifted service must be viewed in light of this eschatological orientation, in which experiences of empowerment are not viewed as realizations of capacities already possessed (welling up from within) but as radically new possibilities called forth by the eschatological Spirit of God. This eschatological context is more helpful for understanding the distinction between conversion and Spirit baptismal experiences assumed by Pentecostals than the Gnostic "levels" of spirituality often used to interpret Pentecostalism.
The incarnational approach, however, focuses on the abiding presence of Christ through the Spirit in the church, which is at work in believers through the sacraments. I have tried elsewhere to negotiate between these theophanic and incarnational emphases from a Pentecostal perspective.(38) The potential tensions between Pentecostals and Catholics concerning the issues of catholicity and ecumenism will have their roots, in part, in these differences of orientation.
The Spirit of God as the Focal Point of Dialogue
The tongues of Pentecost signify that the presence of God and of Christ through the Spirit is the source of the journey of the people of God toward unity. Rahner noted that, despite the dogmatic differences between the churches, it is the same God through the Spirit who redeems us all. Rahner saw an "inner groaning" of the Spirit that we all share in the struggle to be true to the unified witness of the people of God: "All of us 'know' in the Spirit of God something more simple, more true, and more real than that which we are capable of knowing and expressing in the dimension of our theological concepts."(39) What Rahner wrote of our inner groaning in the Spirit is quite consistent with the kind of experience symbolized in speaking in tongues. His focus on such in-depth experiences in the Spirit means that, even as we struggle to express a theological distinctive of our church, we do not seek to express something alien to the other but, it is hoped, a fuller expression "of something which they have already apprehended as their own faith through the Spirit in the ultimate depths of their lives."(40)
Rahner noted that, although truths articulated by the Catholic magisterium are binding, these are "nevertheless different in quality from the absolute truths to which an absolute assent of faith has to be given."(41) We will disagree over the words used to express both these absolute truths and the realities they signify, but the absolute truths and the deeper realities they signify touch us all. Furthermore, there is a fides implicita (implicit faith) that Catholic laity have that makes them loyal to the faith of the Church even if they do not understand or explicitly embrace all the truths of the magisterium. Rahner applied this notion of the fides implicita to the separated churches and wondered if it would not be possible for them to form an analogous situation in which they simply held judgment on certain Roman Catholic dogma that they currently found problematic, in anticipation of future dialogue, consideration, and insight. As long as these churches do not explicitly reject such dogma, they would be in a place not essentially different from Catholic believers who are bound to the Church more through the fides implicita than through dogma.(42) Consequently, Roman Catholic dogma need not remain a barrier to unity.
Pentecostals will find Rahner's ecumenical program tilted too far toward the Roman Catholic magisterium. However, his accent on the groaning in the Spirit as the in-depth source of unity beneath differences in dogma and theology is certainly a way forward. The presence of the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost symbolized the divine mystery at the root of the one praise of the people of God in diverse tongues. The tongues of Pentecost portrayed in Acts 2 formed part of a mysterious and astounding theophany of God, involving flames of fire and the sound of a mighty wind.
Interestingly, Pentecost at the time of the Apostles has become a celebration of the divine giving of the law in the theophany of God at Sinai. According to Philo, God's voice at Sinai came in a fire that streamed from heaven. Further,
for the flame became articulate speech in the language familiar to the audience, and so clearly and distinctively were the words formed by it that the voice was heard to the ends of the earth by multiplying into various languages, first seven, and then seventy. The sound was so great that it spread like sparks flying from an anvil.(43)
Note the connections between this Sinai tradition and the theophany of God in the tongues of Pentecost, in which the diverse tongues came with flames of fire to be heard in languages from people "out of every nation under heaven" (Acts 2:5).(44) The difference with Luke is that the language that came with theophanic flames and multiplied is not God's speech directly but the human speech inspired by God. In Luke we have a unique accent on the participation of the people of God, with all their diverse languages and cultural backgrounds, in the mystery of the divine self-disclosure. The unity of the Spirit does not cancel historic cultural and other differences.
Yet, the theophany accompanying the event reveals that even for Luke the diverse tongues remain out of reach of common human discourse and are manifestations of God's grace. The tongues are a prodigium for Luke that affirms human discourse but still reveals its limitations and weaknesses. In fact, a source-critical examination of Acts 2 would reveal that Luke was probably working with an earlier source that was far less affirmative of understandable human language.(45) This fact does not take away from the validity of Luke's insights, but it might shed some light on the fact that in Acts 2 tongues mystify as much as they communicate, confuse as much as they clarify, and divide as much as they unify. Certainly, the tongues of Pentecost are not simply at the disposal of human thinking and speaking capabilities.
A focus on the mystery and transcendence of tongues-speech is an important theological foundation for understanding the affirmation of diversity among the people of God. It is only when language, culture, and theological tradition are relativized by the all-encompassing mystery of God's Spirit that they can be affirmed in all their diversity as vehicles for expressing the communion of a free humanity with a free and self-giving God. Such diverse communions can fellowship and work together as equal partners as they dialogue across ecclesiastical lines. Tongues as aprodigium that breaks in upon us from God's Spirit functions on one level as a kind of "anti-language" that reveals the utter futility of any effort to attribute absolute status to any one language of faith.
It is only in the context of this iconoclastic role of tongues that the affirmation in Acts 2 of our diverse human linguistic and cultural participation in the mystery of the divine self-disclosure can be understood. Such participation, being by the Spirit of God alone, recognizes the relative worth and beauty of every language of faith represented but democratizes them all by locating their absolute significance in their role as witness to the unspeakable grace of God. By connecting the theophany at Pentecost with the final theophany on the Day of the Lord in which God appears with signs in the heavens and on the earth (Acts 2:19-20), Luke has given the journey of the people of God toward unity in diversity an eschatological direction and reservation. Barth stated that languages and cultures are "pilgrim's clothing" in which the people of God express their free humanity on their journey toward God's future.(46) This is what tongues can mean in relation to the diverse languages of faith in ecumenical discussion between Pentecostals and Roman Catholics.
Necessary Diversity Embraced
As noted previously, the tongues of Pentecost do not abolish the diversity of expression but unify them as a polyphonic witness to the one gospel. The divisions and hostilities between communions are scandalous; diversity is not. Nor should diversity be merely tolerated, as though it were an irreversible accident of history. Diversity was part of the earliest Christian movement. It is reflected within the numerous voices of the biblical canon. Though the subject matter of all these voices is the one gospel of God and of Jesus Christ, there is a diversity of voices set within the canon to bear witness to this gospel. The reader of scripture is provoked to negotiate these voices, with all the tensions between them intact, in the true, ongoing effort to confront the issues of the day in a way that is true to the one gospel. The Bible is an ecumenical book, since it models for us the fullness of unity in diversity. One's commitment to unity in diversity can be motivated by devotion to the Bible, since the rich diversity of biblical voices in their testimony to the one gospel is enhanced in ecumenical discussion. Pentecostals can heed the urging of Catholics for them to enter into the "wider Christian community's" interpretation of the Bible.(47)
Dale Irvin has drawn from the Russian thinker, Mikhail Bahktin, to argue that the nature of language itself provokes diversity and tension. The history of language, including the language of faith, is "a contradiction-ridden, tension-filled unity" of multiple meanings, a polyphonic dialogue. He quoted Bahktin:
The living utterance, having taken meaning and shape at a particular historical moment in a socially specific environment, cannot fail to brush up against thousands of living dialogic threads, woven by socio-ideological consciousness around the given object of an utterance; it cannot fail to become an active participant in social dialogue. After all, the utterance arises out of this dialogue as a continuation of it and as a rejoinder to it-it does not approach the object from the sidelines.(48)
Irvin argued that the "tension-filled unity and disunity of ecumenical discourse and experience are not indicative of the weakness, but of the strength in the movement."(49) The result is that no single voice in the dialogue can unambiguously hold the truth. The ecumenical movement remains open-ended and ever-expansive in its diversity: "It is a polyphonic event that can not be reduced to a single narrative. It is an event born of the plenitude of perspectives of world Christianity and alive still with multiple possibilities."(50)
Similarly, Michel de Certeau wrote of the vital "confrontations and comparisons" that arise in ecumenical exchanges that concern not merely "tendencies" connected with places and periods "but also functions that are necessarily distinct, 'charisms' to preserve, and tasks which are irreconcilable with each other."(51) Oscar Cullmann specifically applied the Pauline notion of the diversity of gifts to his inevitable diversity of churches' striving for unity. Of interest to Pentecostals is Cullmann's argument that a unity of diverse gifts ideally constitutive of a local assembly may also function as an analogy of a worldwide "federation" of churches, each with its own distinctive gift to offer Christianity.(52)
Tongues as an eschatological sign symbolize a search to actualize a unity in the midst of an ever-expanding diversity. Though degrees of unity can and must be achieved, ultimate unity is not found until the final gathering of the people of God in the eschaton. For both Irvin and Cullmann, there is no final resolution of differences this side of eternity. For Irvin, ecumenical encounters will only cause the differences to proliferate, but he regards this diversification to be a valuable enrichment of the people of God. Any unity will need to respect this diversity. Of course, there cannot be limitless diversity among the people of God. The diverse biblical witness to the one gospel will certainly provide a center for Christian identity and ecumenical discussion, though judging our approximation to this center is never easy.
Furthermore, Fries and Rahner suggested the Apostle's Creed and that of Nicea and Constantinople as a confessional core that centers the diversity in the true gospel.(53) The further desire to form a trinitarian core for unity is problematic for trinitarian Pentecostals who wish justifiably to be in solidarity with the Apostolic Pentecostal churches that are unitarian. In a sense, Pentecostals are ambivalent concerning which identity of "apostolic" to embrace, that of their unitarian Pentecostal brothers and sisters or that of the broader ecumenical movement. Much more discussion is needed along these lines.
Ecumenism, the World, and the Future
The tongues of Pentecost looked ahead to what God wanted to do for all humanity and for the entire oikoumene. While recognizing the great advances in understanding caused by the past ecumenical movement, Rahner could not help but lament the lack of significant progress toward actual unity. He maintained that genuine progress might occur if Christians would pay less attention to disputes over past doctrinal differences (the concern of "controversial" theology) and concentrate more on an ecumenical theology of the future. Such a future-oriented theology and dialogue would also be directed to the world, to the urgent needs facing humanity in the immediate future.(54)
Similarly, Dulles has pointed to the need for a future church that bears witness to catholicity in ways that transcend ecclesiocentric, eurocentric, romantic, and anachronistic restrictions, stating:
In desperate circumstances it can seem almost obscene for Christians to seek communion with God in ornate, incense-filled sanctuaries. It is widely felt that catholicity cannot be viable in our time unless it includes the entire redemptive plan of God, extending to the whole of humanity and even to the inanimate material world.(55)
Another voice in support of the worldly direction of future ecumenical dialogue is Yves Congar's. He wrote about ecumenical dialogue in a post-ecumenical era in which the fundamental questions for dialogue come from the world. He quoted Hans-Ruedi Weber: "The fundamental ecumenical dialogue is therefore not the inter-Church dialogue among different Christian sects, but the dialogue in which Christians and Churches of all faiths all over the world consider the major problems of our day.(56) Congar envisioned a unity "of service" in which we strive for a unity in diverse theological expressions, since all our theology belongs to the same world. Congar claimed, regarding the church in a postecumenical situation: "Its future is to be present to the world's future. In that sense, a total ecumenism of common service will save theological ecumenism from turning into a sterile talk-shop among ivory-tower dwellers."(57)
Congar even wondered "whether we shall not eventually arrive at a situation in which the kind of theological points we are discussing now will be of interest to absolutely no one."(58) Dietrich Bonhoeffer's church "for others" is the key to the future discussion of a church in dialogue. Political and liberation theologies remind us that the problems of disbelief should not dominate our agenda and our effort to reach out to others. Equally important must be the crises involved in social oppression and inhumanity. Not just the unbeliever but the nonhuman in the midst of social oppression must be the focus.
Pentecostalist Donald Gee wrote as well of the urgent need to abandon our ecclesiastical ghettos in order to tackle the important issues of the day.(59) Though intrachurch theological discussion is important to "dispel myths" and to aid in the building of bridges to the rich cornmortality and diversity possible between churches striving for unity,(60) such dialogue will not become sterile if opened to the world. After all, confronting the common challenges of the churches in the world can be a powerful force for unified (though diverse) goals and actions. It is important to note that the most recent series of dialogues between Pentecostals and Roman Catholics concerns issues related to society, culture, and the evangelistic/missionary task of the church. This can be regarded as a necessary development. After all, the tongues of Pentecost proclaimed the wonders of God to a group that had not yet come to know the gospel of Jesus Christ (Acts 2:11). The wonders were heard by Jews who were aliens in their own land. They were scattered with painful memories of occupation and various struggles to maintain their cultural heritage and identity in the midst of oppressive social forces. Do our ecumenical conversations seek to clarify the wonders of God to such people? If not, how can such conversations glorify God?
What greater goal can we have than glorifying God? The doxological nature of ecumenical exchange will not evade the difficulties and tensions involved in honestly facing serious differences. Dulles referred to dialogue as taking place in a "tension-filled no-man's-land."(61) In a similar vein, Kosuke Koyama has referred to dialogue as existing at the crossroads in which new opportunities for "exchange, collision, controversy, and discord" can occur.(62) As Werner Simpfendoerfer noted, ecumenical dialogue occurs "in transit," leaving the safe ground of common definitions behind, on the way toward unforeseen conclusions.(63) Yet, in the midst of such uncharted and difficult paths, there should be occasion now and again for striking up a gloria Deo. The spirit and direction of Pentecostal/Roman Catholic dialogue must be doxological if it is to have any lasting value for the people of God. This is the direction that Pentecostals and Catholics alike can take from the tongues of Pentecost.
1 Peter Hocken, "Dialogue Extraordinary," One in Christ, vol. 24, no. 3 (1988), pp. 202-204.
2 Note the final report of these quinquennia, along with both Pentecostal and Catholic responses, in Pneuma: The Journal of the Society]'or Pentecostal Studies [hereafter, Pneuma], vol. 12, no. 2 (Fall, 1990). Recent commentaries on the entire dialogue may be found in Pneuma, vol. 17, no. 2 (Fall, 1995).
3 See Cecil M. Robeck, Jr., "The International Roman Catholic-Pentecostal Dialogue: What Hard Lessons Have We Learned?" presented at a meeting of the European Charismatic Research Association at the Assemblies of God Bible College, Mattersey Hall, Mattersey, Doncaster, England, on July 11, 1995.
4 Donald W. Dayton, Theological Roots of Pentecostalism (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing Co., 1988).
5 Walter J. Hollenweger, "After Twenty Years' Research on Pentecostalism," Theology 87 (November, 1984): 407-409.
6 Cecil M. Robeck, Jr., "Taking Stock of Pentecostalism: The Personal Reflections of a Retiring Editor," Pneuma 15 (Spring, 1993): 39ff.
7 Vinson Synan, e.g., complained that "many have dubbed the pentecostals the 'tongues movement.' Pentecostals have never accepted that appellation. It is no more logical than calling the Baptists the 'water movement' or the Presbyterians the 'predestination movement'" (in his Charismatic Bridges [Ann Arbor, MI: Word of Life, 1974], pp. 33-34). Similarly, Wade Horton stated that Pentecostals "did not, and still do not, place as much importance on glossolalia itself as . . . others claim" (from his "Introduction" in Wade H. Horton, ed., The Glossolalia Phenomenon [Cleveland, TN: Pathway Press, 1966], p. 16).
8 P. C. Nelson, Bible Doctrines (Springfield, MO: Gospel Publishing House, 1948), p. 88.
9 Murray W. Dempster, "The Church's Moral Witness: A Study of Glossolalia in Luke's Theology of Acts," Paraclete 23 (Winter, 1989): 1-7. Note also Michael Welker, God the Spirit, tr. John R. Hoffmeyer (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1994), pp. 147ff.
10 Hermann Gunkel wrote in 1879 that tongues were the "most striking and characteristic activity" of the Spirit for Luke, in his The Influence of the Holy Spirit: The Popular View of the Apostolic Age and the Teaching of the Apostle Paul, tr. Roy A. Harrisville and Philip A. Quanbeck II (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1979 [orig. - Die Wirkungen des heiligen Geistes nach der popularen Anschauung der apostolischen Zeit und der Lehre des Apostels Paulus (Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1888)]), p. 30; also see p. 25. More recently, Rudolf Pesch has noted that tongues for Luke were the "Anfangswunder" (initial miracle) of the Spirit's work (see Josef Blank et al., eds., Evangelisch-Katholisch Kommentar zum Neuen Testament. Vol. 1: Die Apostelgeschichte [Neukirchen Vluyn: Neukirchener, 1986], pp. 101-102, 108).
11 Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics. Vol. 4: The Doctrine of Reconciliation, Part 1, ed. G. W. Bromiley and T. F. Torrance, tr. G. W. Bromiley (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark; New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1956), pp. 675-676.
12 Ibid., p. 676.
14 Heinrich Fries and Karl Rahner, Unity of the Churches: An Actual Possibility, tr. Ruth C. L. Gritsch and Eric W. Gritsch (Philadelphia: Fortress Press; New York and Ramsey, NJ: Paulist Press, 1985), p. 22.
15 Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics. Vol. 3: The Doctrine of Creation, Part 4, ed. G. W. Bromiley and T. F. Torrance, tr. A. T. Mackay et al. (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1961), p. 323.
16 Jurgen Roloff, Die Apostelgeschichte, Das Neue Testament Deutsch 5 (Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1981), p. 45.
17 R. P. Spittler, "Glossolalia," in Gary B. McGee, et al., eds., Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1988), p. 341.
18 See Peter Staples, "Catholicity," in Nicholas Lossky et al., eds., Dictionary of the Ecumenical Movement (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1991), p. 135.
19 Ignatius, Letter to the Smyrnaeans, 8:2, in The Apostolic Fathers, with an English translation by Kirsopp Lake, The Loeb Classical Library (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press; London: William Heinemann Ltd., 1949 [orig., 1912], vol. 1, p. 261.
20 Martyrdom of Polycarp, 8:1, in The Apostolic Fathers, with an English translation by Kirsopp Lake, The Loeb Classical Library (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press; London: William Heinemann Ltd., 1946 [orig., 1913], vol. 2, p. 323.
21 Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures, Lecture 18, para. 23, in Works of Saint Cyril of Jerusalem, vol. 2, tr. Leo P. McCauley and Anthony A. Stephenson, The Fathers of the Church: A New Translation (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1970), p. 132.
22 "Decree on Ecumenism," chap. 1, nos. 3-4, in The Documents of Vatican II (New York: America Press, 1966), pp. 345-349.
23 Ibid., no. 4 (p. 349).
24 Quoted in Fries and Rahner, Unity of the Churches, pp. 48-49.
25 Ibid., p. 49.
26 "Decree on Ecumenism," chap. 2, no. 11 (p. 354).
27 Ibid., chap. 1, no. 3 (p. 346).
28 Miroslav Volf, "Wir sind die Kirche," Habilitationsschrift, Tubingen, 1993.
29 "Perspectives on Koinonia: The Report from the Third Quinquennium of the Dialogue between the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity of the Roman Catholic Church and Some Classical Pentecostal Churches and Leaders, 1989," no. 91, in Pneuma 12 (Fall, 1990): 135-136.
30 Fries and Rahner, Unity of the Churches, p. 74; note the entire discussion of Thesis IVa, pp. 59-82.
31 Pentecostals argued against any episcopal or centralized ecclesial authority in the dialogue, affirming "that presbyterial and/or congregational ecclesial models express better the mutuality or reciprocity demanded by koinonia" ("Perspectives on Koinonia", no. 87, p. 135).
32 Hans Urs von Balthasar, The Von Balthasar Reader, ed. Medard Kehl and Werner Loser, tr. Robert J. Daly and Fred Lawrence (New York: Crossroad, 1982), p. 315; Jurgen Moltmann, "The Ecumenical Church under the Cross," chap. 6 in his The Passion for Life: A Messianic Lifestyle, tr. M. Douglas, Meeks (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1978), pp. 82-94.
33 Simon Tugwell, The Speech-Giving Spirit: A Dialogue with 'Tongues,'" in Simon Tugwell, et al., eds., New Heaven, New Earth? An Encounter with Pentecostalism (Springfield, IL: Templegate, 1976), pp. 150-164.
34 Richard A. Baer, Jr., "Quaker Silence, Catholic Liturgy, and Pentecostal Glossolalia: Some Functional Similarities," in R. P. Spittler, ed., Perspectives on the New Pentecostalism (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1976), p. 151.
35 Harvey Cox, Fire from Heaven: The Rise of Pentecostal Spirituality and the Reshaping of Religion in the Twenty-First Century (New York: Addison-Wesley Publishing Co., 1995), chap. 8, esp. p. 148.
36 Hocken, "Dialogue Extraordinary," pp. 206-210.
37 In the report, "Perspectives on Koinonia," Pentecostals feared a "mechanical" or "magical" understanding of the sacraments in Catholic worship (no. 86, pp. 134-135) and observed "that it seems possible for some Roman Catholics to live continuously in a state of sin, and yet be considered members in the Church" (no. 78, p. 133).
38 See F[rank] D. Macchia, "Tongues as a Sign: Towards a Sacramental Understanding of Pentecostal Experience," Pneuma 15 (Spring, 1993): 61-76.
39 Karl Rahner, "On the Theology of the Ecumenical Discussion," in his Theological Investigations. Vol. 11: Confrontations I, tr. David Bourke (London: Darton, Longman & Todd; New York: Seabury Press, 1974), p. 38.
40 Ibid., p. 39.
41 Ibid., p. 40.
42 Ibid., pp. 40ff.
43 "Decalogue," no. 46, in C. D. Yonge, tr. and ed., The Works of Philo (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1993), p. 522.
44 From Stuart D. Currie, "Speaking in Tongues: Early Evidence outside the NT," in Watson E. Mills, ed., Speaking in Tongues: A Guide to Research on Glossolalia (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1986), p. 96. See also a development of this aspect of tongues as theophany in F[rank] D. Macchia, "Sighs Too Deep for Words: Towards a Theology of Glossolalia," Journal of Pentecostal Theology 1 (October, 1992): 47-73.
45 Gerhard Schneider, Die Apostelgeschichte, ed. Alfred Wikenhauser et al., Herders Theologischer Kommentar zum neuen Testament V/1 (Freiburg: Herder, 1980), pp. 243-244.
46 Barth, Church Dogmatics, III/4, p. 302.
47 "Perspectives on Koinonia," no. 27, p. 122.
48 Dale T. Irvin, Hearing Many Voices: Dialogue and Diversity in the Ecumenical Movement (Lanham, MD; New York; and London: University Press of America, 1994), p. 9, quoting Mikhail M. Bakhtin, The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays, ed. Michael Holquist (Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 1981), p. 269.
49 Ibid., p. 11.
50 Ibid., p. 12.
51 Michel de Certeau, "Is There a Language of Unity?" in Edward Schillebeeckx, ed., Dogma and Pluralism (New York: Herder & Herder, 1970), p. 85.
52 Oscar Cullmann, Unity through Diversity: Its Foundation, and a Contribution to the Discussion concerning the Possibilities of Its Actualization, tr. M. Eugene Boring (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1988 [orig. - Einheit durch Vielfalt: Grundlegungund Beitragzur Diskussion uber die Moglichkeiten ihrer Verwirklichung (Tubingen: J. C. B. Mohr [Paul Siebeck], 1986)]).
53 Fries and Rahner, Unity of the Churches, Thesis 1, pp. 13ff.
54 Rahner, "On the Theology of the Ecumenical Discussion," pp. 60ff.
55 Avery Dulles, The Catholicity of the Church (Oxford: Clarendon Press; New York: Oxford University Press, 1985), p. 20.
56 Yves Congar, "Do the New Problems of Our Secular World Make Ecumenism Irrelevant?" tr. Rosemary Middleton, in Hans Kung, ed., Post-Ecumenical Christianity, Concilium, vol. 54 (New York: Herder & Herder, 1970), p. 12, quoting from Weber's address at the close of the Lay Apostolate Congress in Rome, 1967, from the Congress proceedings, vol. 1 (Rome, 1968), p. 128.
57 Congar, "Do the New Problems," p. 15.
58 Ibid., p. 16.
59 Quoted in Kilian McDonnell, "Classical Pentecostal//Roman Catholic Dialogue: Hopes and Possibilities," in Spittler, Perspectives on the New Pentecostalism, p. 256.
61 Dulles, Catholicity, p. 82.
62 Irvin, Hearing Many Voices, p. 5.
Frank D. Macchia (Assemblies of God) has been an associate professor of theology at Southeastern College of the Assemblies of God, Lakeland, FL, since 1992. He was an instructor of Valley Forge Christian College's New York Korean Extension, 1978-80; pastor of Trinity Gospel Church in Itasca, IL, 1974-78 and 1980-84; and associate pastor of Christian Assembly Church, Hobart, IN, 1989-92. He holds a B.A. from Southern California College, Costa Mesa; an M.A. from Wheaton (IL) College Graduate School; an M.Div. (1980) from Union Theological Seminary, New York; and a Th.D. (1989) from the University of Basel (Switzerland). He also did graduate study in philosophy at Loyola University of Chicago, 1982-83. Ordained in the Assemblies of God, he is an officer of the Society for Pentecostal Studies; an associate editor of its journal, Pneuma; and a member of the Pentecostal Teams in dialogue with the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, the Roman Catholics in North America, and the National Council of Churches. He published Spirituality and Social Liberation (Scarecrow, 1993). His articles have appeared in Pneuma, the Journal of Pentecostal Theology, Transformation, and Concilium (June, 1996); and in J. B. Jongeneel, ed., Experiences of the Spirit (Peter Lang, 1989).
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|Author:||Macchia, Frank D.|
|Publication:||Journal of Ecumenical Studies|
|Date:||Jan 1, 1998|
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