The Tension Between Pastor/ Evangelist and Teacher:
The Role Of The Teacher/ Historian In Contemporary Pentecostalism
by Ian Jagelman
'Let's not turn this Into a battle of great minds.' These words still echo in my ears from a recent national gathering of Pentecostal leaders at what was meant to be a 'summit of the Holy Spirit', a time when the leadership of the various Pentecostal movements in Australia met to discuss what Pentecostals believe and practice in their churches.
The words so vividly express the fears that exist in the minds of many Pentecostal pastors, and arise out of a tension between Pastor/evangelists and teachers in the Pentecostal movement. The nature of those fears is complex, but seem to me to include the following on the part of the pastors:
i. the fear that their lack of education will be exposed;
ii. the fear that others, simply on the basis of their intelligence or education, will take control;
iii. the fear that intellectualism will dominate the movement rather than 'faith';
iv. the fear that the work of the Spirit will be suppressed by people who merely lean on their own understanding,
v. the fear of liberalism;
vi. the fear of the loss of a Pentecostal distinctiveness;
vii. the fear of the loss of the Pentecostal heritage/ tradition.
In addition to these fears, many of which are both rational and valid, there is what I wish to term 'the hermeneutical dilemma', which I shall discuss separately below.
Before discussing the hermeneutical dilemma within Pentecostalism, however, I want to state what I believe to be the nature of fears resident in many 'teachers' in the Pentecostal movement. These include:
i. the fear of losing scholarly reputation by being associated with a movement led by untrained teachers;
ii. the fear of living in a religious world which is not secured by a systematic theology which is rationally based;
iii. the fear of reputations being affected by claims being made which are substantiated by neither Scripture nor historical fact;
iv. the fear of being led by people who are considered incompetent in the exegeting of the Scriptures or ignorant or oblivious to the lessons of Church history.
This is a list that could be extended so that teachers are as much aware of forces which may be influencing them as they may be of what is influencing others (this is Jesus' 'mote principle').
The Hermeneutical Dilemma
Contemporary evangelical courses on both hermeneutics and exegesis refer to the terms 'the text of Scripture' and the 'text of life'. Roman Catholic theology has always put alongside the Scripture the traditional teaching of the Church. Pentecostal preachers, I believe, have a second source of authority which can best be described in the phrase "what works'.
Whether it does in fact "work' at all, or whether it will continue to "work' is something which, I have no doubt, many will have cause to question. However, the fact is that, for the present, many Pentecostal pastors are greatly reluctant to abandon the authority of "what works' in favour of what may be true but which has not, or cannot, be seen to 'work'.
Before Pentecostal pastors abandon the authority of what they presently have been taught Vorks' they will need to be persuaded that what they are being offered in the way of new doctrine works just as well, if not better.
What is also needed is to help pastors to analyse how liberal (non-evangelical) and how catholic (in bondage to tradition) they have become.
Many pastors demean 'theology' and 'doctrine' as if only scholars discuss such matters. Whereas the truth is that they have strongly held doctrinal positions which, in many instances, have been communicated to them by preaching rather than teaching. As a result they erroneously believe that their faith is of the heart by the Spirit. In fact what has happened is that they have received their doctrinal grounding in a context in which there was no opportunity to question what was being taught. They were given meat instead of milk, and told not to chew on it but merely to swallow it whole.
Why they were willing to be moulded in this way goes back to the 'what works' authority element within the Pentecostal movement. If the person who speaks is 'successful' - ie. has a big church etc - it is assumed what he/she says ought not to be questioned. A corollary is the commonly held view that if a person's church is unsuccessful - ie. small - he/she has nothing of any value to say. What they say 'doesn't work' and is therefore not true.
In addition, over time, the lives of some early Pentecostal ministers have been idealised, like the stories in the New Testament apocryphal documents. The effect of this idealisation has been to make their writing more influential, after their deaths, than it was during their life-times. As a result, Pentecostalism has, like Catholicism, developed a deutero-canonical collection of writings, whose authors are people like Smith Wigglesworth and E.W. Kenyon, amongst others.
To be fair, the blame for the tension which exists between pastors and teachers is also attributable to the failure of the teachers to wrestle with, and develop, a theology which is 'workable' in the context of the local church. Terms such as 'epistemology' and 'transcendence' are fine in the class room (I think) but are quite unusable in the pulpit.
These problems can be seen most acutely in the operation of problems of a theological nature. One such problem, which is at the heart of much misunderstanding and abuse in Pentecostal ministry is the problem of the relationship between the attributes of God and Pentecostal teaching on healing. I take this not with a view to resolving the issue, but to explore the task which is ahead of the teachers of the movement.
Consider the following three terms -omnipresence, transcendence, and imminence. All three occur in most textbooks of systematic theology. None occur in the Scriptures. Most people agree to all three concepts and yet 'omnipresence' is a denial of the truths of transcendence and imminence. 'Ah', you say 'it is a paradox.'
In what sense is God omnipresent? How can imminence, which I take to- be transitory, be possible if God is (to use an apt tautology) always omnipresent?
These questions touch on a doctrine of healing. If God's power to heal is in His transcendent being, and the 'power of God to heal' is not always present (ie. 'imminent'), as suggested by Luke 5:17', then what is the consequence?
Faith in God's transcendent nature does not lead to healing in human reality. Faith only leads to healing when the power to heal is imminent. Can faith influence God's power to be imminent?
Pentecostal pastors assume, because they believe God to be both omnipresent and omnipotent, that the power to heal is always present. Hence the song, "Here with the power to heal now'. Alternatively, pastors want to know how to influence God so that His transcendent nature is present on a particular occasion - such as through prayer and fasting. Rejecting a fundamentalistic dispensationalism (the power was present but is so no longer) they offer a Pentecostal dispensationalism sometimes rooted in the terminology of the latter rain'.
The Challenge Before Us.
The challenge this conundrum presents the teachers of the movement is, I suspect, threefold: theological, historical, and ecclesial. The theological task is to reexamine and retranslate systematic and biblical theology to produce a theology which is true, relevant, and understandable by the untaught. The historical task is to provide an examination and explanation of the development of Pentecostal doctrine which demythologizes the ghosts of former 'giants' without destroying the power of their courage to inspire us. In short, teachers have to discover a way for their movement to become less catholic without becoming liberal. Finally, the ecclesiological task is to build a relationship between pastors and scholars so that teachers and historians can serve the needs of pastors and evangelists. They will do this by developing theologies that do 'work' and yet reflect a doctrine of God which comes from a sound use of Scripture. Such theologies must be less intimidating without being simplistic.
As someone who is in reality both pastor and teacher, I both welcome and feel threatened by the task ahead.
Ian Jagelman is Senior Pastor at Christian City Church, Lane Cove. He has taught for many years in charismatic and Pentecostal churches, and runs regular ministers' seminars for 'in-service' and continuing education of ministers.
1 'One day as he was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law, who had come from every village of Galilee and from Judea and Jerusalem, were sitting there. And the power of the Lord was present for him to heal the sick.' (Luke 5:17, NIV)