By Jonathan Turtle
Pentecostals have taught me a lot. You see, despite being born to a Presbyterian father from Belfast and a Roman Catholic mother from Dublin, being baptized in the Church of Ireland (a compromise?!), and currently serving as a priest in the Anglican Church of Canada, I spent those crucial and formative teenage years (and then some) in the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada (PAOC).
To be honest, for much of my 20s I was downright angsty with the faith of my youth. The language of “exvangelical” didn’t exist then, but yeah. However, during my studies at Wycliffe College at the University of Toronto, in fellowship with some tremendous professors and classmates and with my wife’s enduring patience, I discovered the Great Tradition. It saved me.
Fast forward one decade and I am finding that the longer I serve within the rubble of Anglicanism in the West the more important some of those gifts I acquired during my foray into Pentecostalism become, and the more I am able to see that part of my pilgrimage as a tremendous blessing and gift. And the more I come to realize that those gifts are quite at home in the Great Tradition.
This could be a much longer list, but for the sake of brevity here are a few of the most important things that I have learned from Pentecostalism. I do not foresee a renewal of Anglican faith and identity in the West apart from these.
1) A personal and intimate knowledge and experience of God is available to believers through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
Pentecostalism is based on the premise that one can know and experience God personally and intimately. This knowing involves the intellect, but it is not primarily intellectual; in fact, sometimes the role of the intellect can be obscured or even minimized. The point is that there is something more important than a rigorous, seemingly cold and disconnected, intellectual knowledge of God; and that is a personal, warm, and intimate, experience of God.
And this experience is available to each and every believer. God knows my name and the number of hairs on my head. He knows me better even than I know myself, and yet he loves me, as if I were the only person in the whole wide world. And I — even I! — can know his kindness and mercy and have a relationship with him as I would any other friend, but even more so.
This closeness with God is a gift made available to believers by the Holy Spirit who has been poured into our hearts. For Pentecostals, this one time baptism of the Holy Spirit works itself out in a more regular infilling of the Holy Spirit, a new reality that is available to us each and every day and ought to be pursued vigorously and with faith.
It is true that this has at times been a matter of some controversy even within Pentecostal circles. For example, is the gift of tongues the initial evidence of Spirit baptism, or merely the initial physical evidence? In 2012 I myself was denied ordination with PAOC because of a disagreement on just this point.
On the other hand, I remember a conversation with a friend and colleague many years ago in which he joked that Anglicans are functionally binitarian (rather than trinitarian). The Father and the Son we are good with, but we’re not quite sure what to make of the Holy Spirit. I think he was on to something.
At any rate, an important and developing aspect of my own ministry is to remind people of the abiding and indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. He is to be worshiped and glorified along with the Father and the Son. He is the Lord, the giver of life, who gives good gifts to the Church and brings the truth of the gospel to fruition in believers. He equips and animates believers to bear witness to the crucified and risen Jesus in the world. Apart from him we have no life at all. But we are never apart from him.
Anglicans know, or ought to, that the Holy Spirit is given to us in the sacrament of baptism. Or so we pray: “Give thy Holy Spirit to this Child, That he may be born again, And be made an heir of everlasting salvation” (Canadian BCP, 525). Born again. That’s the language of the prayer book!
At the same time, the Holy Spirit is the gift that keeps on giving. The Roman Catholic theologian Mary Healy says that to be baptized in the Holy Spirit is “to come alive to the grace received in sacramental baptism.” I quite like that way of putting it. In other words, the grace received in baptism can (and must!) be relied upon continually. Each day we may (and should!) ask him to fill us up and flow through us, sustaining us as sap does a tree. What life and vigor can we have apart from this?
2) Believers are called to holiness of life.
Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and Wednesday evening. Youth group, youth rallies, and summer camp. There was hardly a gathering that did not include a call to repentance and faith. Backsliding. The altar call. If you know, you know. Let’s just say that in those days I got saved, a lot.
The goal was holiness of life, and any sin that inhibited this was to be dealt with as soon as possible. Yes, these altar calls were sometimes accompanied by emotive music and manipulative preaching. Nevertheless, the Holy Spirit was at work convicting me (and others, evidently) of my own personal sin and the need to confess it.
It is true that this sort of thing can be weaponized and used to shame people and weigh them down with burdens that are impossible to carry. But we needn’t throw out the good with the bad. Sin is real. Sin has real consequences. We all sin. And yet it is possible with the help and grace of the Holy Spirit to find sin less appealing and to sin less. Grace gives our lives a new orientation and opens us up to a new moral horizon that had previously been unimaginable to us.
So on the one hand, don’t minimize, obscure, or deny your sin. This benefits no one, least of all you. Jesus loves sinners so much that he died for them. When you minimize your sin, you minimize the extent to which you can know the joy of forgiveness. On the other hand, flee from sin and avoid it. The Holy Spirit wants to make you holy. That means more than not sinning, but it doesn’t mean less. St. Bernard of Clairvaux put it better than I: “A saint is not someone who never sins, but one who sins less and less frequently and gets up more and more quickly.”
Of course, this is written into the DNA of Anglicanism. Morning and Evening Prayer, the Litany and Supplication, Holy Communion, the propers of the church year, the Psalter, baptism, the Catechism, Confirmation, matrimony, Thanksgiving after Child-Birth, Ministry to the Sick, Burial of the Dead — good luck finding a page of the prayer book that doesn’t also contain a call to turn to Jesus Christ who “has brought us out of error into truth, out of sin into righteousness, out of death into life.” This is the gift and vocation of holiness that encompasses the span of our life from beginning to end.
3) Enthusiasm in worship is good, actually.
Worship in Pentecostalism tends to be marked by enthusiasm and energy. Yes, this can vary from church to church, but as a general rule it holds. In my home church it was not uncommon to see people singing along, eyes closed and hands raised. Another church I attended in my 20s had three-hour long services with people dancing in the aisles. Because worship is a matter of the heart as well as if not more so than the mind. Just look at how many popular worship songs from the 1990s mention the words “heart,” “love,” and so on.
I am not suggesting that Anglicans should start dancing in the aisles — Lord knows we can hardly clap on beat — but it is not difficult to see how Anglicans can be prone to erring in the opposite direction. After all we have a prayer book. This can give the impression that worship is primarily about reading words on a page. And, to be fair, there will be seasons when that is all we can offer, and that is more than enough of a mustard seed for God to work with.
Better yet to allow the prayers of the liturgy to work themselves into our hearts and souls so that they become, truly, our own prayers. The prayer book exists to orient our hearts and minds toward this reality and open us up to the grace of God in a way that touches us personally and transformatively. Only then can we rightly offer our own sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, let alone with enthusiasm.
To worship with enthusiasm isn’t necessarily to be swinging from the chandeliers, nor does it entail a particular physical posture or action. Indeed some of the more charismatic expressions of worship can be distracting if not mortifying for others. Rather to worship with enthusiasm as I am using the term is to pour your heart out to the living God. To bear your soul to him. To hold nothing back. All of which can be done (or not) in silence.
To worship with enthusiasm is “to enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise! To give thanks to him and bless his name!” (Ps. 100:4)! It is to recognize in God the desire of your soul (Ps. 42:1), indeed the one who is your true home: “O how lovely are thy dwellings, thou Lord of hosts! My soul hath a desire and longing to enter into the courts of the Lord: my heart and my flesh rejoice in the living God” (Ps. 84:1-2).
For goodness’ sake, the daily office, which it could be argued is the backbone of Anglican spirituality, practically kicks off with this: “O come, let us sing unto the Lord: let us heartily rejoice in the strength of our salvation. Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving, and show ourselves glad in him with psalms” (Ps. 95). It is good to let your heart be strangely warmed in worship! To sing with vigor like you mean it, to pray the words of the liturgy rather than merely read them. Heartily rejoice!
Intimacy with God, holiness of life, and enthusiasm in worship. Three lessons Anglicans in the West can learn from Pentecostalism. And the beauty is that none of this is ultimately foreign to Anglicanism. It’s all in the prayer book!