In the past hundred years, the pentecostalism became one of the fastest growing Christian movements the world. It offered an alternative approach to Christianity in parts of the world that most westerners unfairly regard as “the Third World”. Today, the Pentecostal Movement is wide spread in Africa, Asia, Central and South America etc. We can easily call Africa a Pentecostal continent. The Pentecostal movement revived the thirst for evangelism among the believers combined with a hunger for the move of the supernatural such as healing, prophesies etc...
Pentecostalism also played an important role in fighting the segregation in the church and society, especially in North America. It also encouraged women to partake in the works of the ministry and opened the pulpit’s floors for the female preachers. I personally believe that Pentecostalism is now entering into a new phase in her developments, which I call the birth pains of reformation within Pentecostalism. This is an era of self-evaluating, self-awakening and reforming the Pentecostal movement as it is now. The Pentecostalism with its branches and side branches needs a reformation and a re-intervention on specific areas where things have been going out of hand or in areas that have been neglected. In this article, as a pentecostal my self, I would like to share some of my concerns.
1. We need Balance
Pentecostalism is becoming more and more emotion-oriented, rather than knowledge. I believe both are important, when they are balanced.
Pentecostalism should direct her followers into a deeper understanding of the word and context in a broader framework of knowledge. The Pentecostal movement lacks essential knowledge on how to practice faith in a more balanced way and in understanding the Word in a wider context relating to the global society. The Pentecostal movement indeed does offer her own theology on exegesis (interpreting the Bible) and practical matters on individual levels but gives less attention to essential global and societal matters. We have thousands of books written about prosperity and how to get blessed, or how to become rich in order to have villa’s and private jets for the ministry, yet far more than half of the Christians in these ministries are not doing so well financially, some even suffer in poverty--not only in the developing world but also in the so called “First World”.
Apparently, our so-called super spiritual Pentecostal approach is not working as it should. Far more than ever, the Pentecostal believers know how to pray, attend weekly discipleship meetings, participate in church activities, and attend conferences while often their own marriages are fading away. Many things disappear in the middle of all these “spirit-filled” activities. Pentecostalism should theologically, systematically and spiritually approach these issues such as marriage, family, life, job, city, country, environment and the earth in a balanced way.
Pentecostalism is strongly feeling-oriented, which results to various problems; because when people are feeling-oriented, then the church services or conferences should also stimulate feelings and emotions. That is why we begin to preach the word in a feeling-way; we decorate the podiums with lights and sound systems to give us good and proper feelings. The preachers begin to compete with each other about who may be the most Spirit-filled, gauging from the responses of their audience. There is a confusion between the words, spirit-filled and emotional feeling! Pentecostalism should enter into progressive maturity by promoting knowledge and the correct practice thereof. When emotion becomes a value, then everything will be emotionally measured. The music will be measured emotionally, therefore if the worship songs do not satisfy us emotionally we mark it as not spirit-filled! This must change.
2. Demand to perform versus being yourself
Secondly, there is an over emphasis on performance, numbers and prestige. Let me explain: it is no more about souls, but about numbers. How many people attended the conferences and the so-called crusades. In the late 80’s we were satisfied with ten thousand attendees, at the end of the 90’s the prominent pentecostal leaders spoke about crusades with almost two to three hundred thousands and in the beginning of the new millennium even these numbers satisfy no more! We began to whisper attendees in millions! However, despite all these million attendees Africa still battles with AIDS, poverty and ethnic cleansing! In this Reformation of Pentecostalism, however, we should not focus on numbers but on the fellowship of the human spirit with God, the breaking of the bread and drinking the wine which is the sign of the new covenant!
Lately, I have the impression, as a professing and preaching Christian, there is a demand for me to perform! To perform miracles, to perform in order for people fall on the floor, to perform a prophesy etc. I am tired of this “demanding me to perform”. The Post Modern man needs a new kind of Pentecostal leadership, the kind of ministers who are honest and just. We do not have to perform but be honest in pouring out our hearts, and in speaking about our weakness and confessing them to one another! By this I mean, having close friends whom we can trust to share not only our successes but also our mistakes. The people of the world are not as stupid (sorry for my language) as we may portray them. They can see what is genuine and what is performance! If we ever want to reach the internet generation, green peace generation, the MTV/TMF men and women, and if ever we want approach the highly informed and rapidly changing global village, then we have to be real, consistent, honest!
3. Exaggeration versus Honesty
Thirdly, we as Pentecostal people have to be very critical of
our ministries. We often exaggerate in numbers of people, in healing testimonies etc. I urge you to trust me that more than you, I believe in miracles like healing etc. In my own ministry, I have experienced people being healed from serious illnesses. However, I also have to be honest that out of 1000 people that I prayed for only a handful got healed. Maybe in the meetings, it seems like they are healed but on the way home many of them still have their illnesses. A handful people getting healed does not make me in any way a less Spirit-filled minister, and secondly, I do not have to advertise that God will heal or healed ‘all’, while many others are not. And so as a Pentecostal minister I have to find a balanced approach. I also have to understand and teach that it is not me who heals but Christ as He pleases! Who checks among us who is healed? Is there not an objective entity that can check the healings that actually took place?
Who confirms how many people attended the conferences or crusades? Is there a clear-cut system to check how many attended on that particular day? Because the local newspaper speaks of ten thousand people, while the performing minister writes in his newsletter fifty thousand. The difference is too big!
How long shall we follow the journals, the books and other materials we have on how to tithe, where to plant our seeds and to whom shall we give our gifts, whereby we end up in serious financial disorder? Please do not judge me. I am not denying the practice of giving tithes and offerings. I am just trying to be critical. If I don’t, one day the ungodly reporter will.
How can we preach when we wear Rolex watches in our wrists and at the same time go on television and plead for money for the missions? How long will we have these scenarios?
4. Living Idols versus Jesus
Fourthly, the success stories in the “performance ministry” with the combination of Christian media have created an elite group of Christian leaders - the nouveau rich leaders. We have turned these leaders into artists and VIP’s. The extra attention, honor, care and wealth which are being laid at their feet, (often through manipulation or media) turns them into the nouveau rich generations of leaders who do not know how to deal biblically with money and wealth. They became so lost in fame, pride and money. Gradually, they begin to smell power and give in to lust which results in loosing their financial/ sexual integrity and, at the end, lose their marriages. Tragic scandals.
Further, the nouveau riche leaders become a so-called idols for many average and common leaders and people. In place of taking Christ as the absolute measurement of life, people imitate these superstars! Since many cannot be superstars, just like many housewives cannot be Naomi Campbell, they end up in frustration. Many leaders cannot perform to be like these superstar Christian leaders.
They burn out! They die out! Or as I have mentioned above, they end up in scandals. I hope that Pentecostal movement consciously and deliberately deals with these issues and will not be afraid to speak out critically in love and correction!
5. Titles versus Ethics
I hope that unlike what the Pentecostal Movement has become lately, the reformation in Pentecostalism will focus not only on to getting people to heaven but also teach them how to practice some principles of heaven here on earth. That the Pentecost Church should tackle the issues of righteousness, societal justice, animal justice, planet care in place of preaching doom and gloom messages and how the end time will look like! I do believe in the end time and the second coming of Christ, but until then, I have to practice the unconditional love and care toward those who are different than me in thinking and practicing life! Fifth, we have to seriously deal with the issue of Christian titles such as: Apostle, Prophet, Evangelist, Pastor, Teacher, Bishop, Reverend and etcetera in the Pentecostal and Charismatic movement. I am under the impression that we choose these titles superficially and treat them lightly, while it is the Lord who appoints these titles! Let us take the worldly titles such as PhDs, MDs, DMDs. These titles must not be used unauthorized or else the persons who maliciously use these titles will be apprehended for plagiarism. It is legally prohibited to call ourselves a lawyer or a dentist when we’re not. However, one can readily get a Pastor’s title and more often than not, the urge to have additional titles becomes great whereby it becomes so hilarious and silly. We can see examples in many Charismatic / Pentecostal print ads where people use huge spaces to indicate their titles such as Reverend, Doctor, Evangelist, End time Prophet and lately, the Apostle is even added!
My question is then, how do we give and receive these titles? Likewise, once we receive such a title, are we living and acting according to that title? I often work with people from the Developing world, especially from Africa. What I have noticed recently is that they all call themselves as apostles. A few years ago, the same people called themselves as prophets. Further back, they were once evangelists and pastors!
The usage of every title has its own purposes. If I am a Medical Practitioner, I ought to cure people. If I am lawyer I ought to defend people’s rights and welfare. If I carry the title of a pilot, I ought to operate an aircraft in flight. In each of these examples, I have to act within the ethics of my title and job. However, I often have experienced people who use the title of pastor, or a prophet but their lifestyle, their manners of speech and their conducts are totally in contradiction with their titles!
I believe in titles that are ordained by God, but nowadays we are exaggerating in titles. An old Persian proverb says: “a good perfume does not need an advertisement” This is one of the reasons why the people of the world often do not take the Christians seriously: our titles have turned to be cheap and empty.
Many years ago, I was interviewed by Ministries Today which is a well known Christian magazine in the US. The cover story was “apostles among us”. This magazine saw the ministry of an apostle in me as many others have confirmed this, as well. But even though I have this ministry, I don’t move around with this title on my neck! I did that years ago, I have to admit, but soon after I realized that this kind of attitude is not appropriate. So, instead of calling and advertising myself as an apostle, I let my deeds and actions speak for itself!
6. Miraculous versus Science
The lack of sincerity in the usage of titles leads us to point number six. We have to reform our Pentecostal education! I believe with all my heart that the Pentecostal movement is in dire need of a solid and strong biblical foundation and world-view! Our education is often simple. We try to answer tough questions with simple and superficial answers!
The leaders, especially in the developing world where the Pentecostalism movement rapidly grows, do not have substantial and proper educational training and even if it exists, these leaders focus more on spiritual matters, which is not bad because it is actually suitable to the Pentecost movement. But the fact of the matter is that their knowledge about the current global situations is insufficient. We know how to quote the bible from our head, but our apologetics fall very short. Basic questions like: “why the Bible we read today is the way it is?” cannot be answered properly. We have not much knowledge on Church history and denominations, more so, our current global crisis. These should be, among others the subjects of discussion and research.
I believe the Pentecostal movement must reform the system of educating leaders, lay leaders and Christians in general. Our education should be based in understanding science through biblical perspectives inspired and directed by the Holy Spirit.
What is happening however, is that we often hide behind the Holy Spirit and give a spiritual explanation to everything without testing it! Many times I have met Christians who are suffering from serious maladies; with much hope they attend to healing conferences, and after the healing minister have prayed for them, they believe by faith they are healed. So, they refuse further examinations and stopped with their medications. These lead to the stagnation of the sickness and death!
Many people think that using medicine or going to a doctor is a sign of weakness and lack of faith!
The focus on the miraculous gives little room for dialogue with science. The Reformation in Pentecostal movement should seek and explore a dialogue with science. The enmity between science and the Pentecostal movement should be rightfully eliminated so that we can use all these knowledge for God’s glory and the advancement of His Kingdom. We are living in a complex world; the humanity of 2000 years ago is not the same as what we today’s. Humanity is becoming more complex year after year. Having said that, we cannot just cook up quick answers to pressing questions and coat it with the Holy Spirit flavor on top. The Pentecostal movement does not only need agents of miracles, revivalists, and anointed ministers, but it also needs scientists on fire for God who are willing to build bridges between science and Pentecostal movement. I have to be honest with you, when I look at the scientists of various denominations especially from the traditional ones, I see that they have learned to build such bridges and dialogues.
7. Finance versus Integrity
Seventh, we have to reform the way we deal with finances, especially in the area of raising funds and accumulating the tithes and offerings! The Charismatic / Pentecostal ministries fail on this point so often! There are lots of Pentecostal generous givers out there, but sadly, they themselves suffer financially. We live in the age of credit cards, high technology and multi-media. Oftentimes, the TV evangelists’ gospel programs make people confused where to pay their gift and love offering, or whatever you may call it. The easy usage of the credit cards cause people to end up in serious financial debts. Emotional manipulation leads to merchandizing the Holy Spirit. Worldly techniques are applied to accumulate money for the “ministry”.
I have attended conferences and meetings whereby the preacher on stage urged the people that if they wanted to be debt-free within certain days, they have to invest a certain amount of money, often-big ones, into his ministry.
Among the African community, where the usage of credit cards are not yet commonly used, some of these so-called leaders employ other techniques to accumulate money for their ministries. There was once a pastor from Africa who conducted a conference to the migrants in Amsterdam. In his conference, he started selling salt for thousands of Euros. Just a small can of salt costs about 1,000 euros, and if the people did not have money they could buy a spoon of salt for 10 euros. The promise was that once a person buys that salt and takes a bath with it, he or she would be debt-free within certain number of days.
I was in Ghana, Africa, and I saw that people are selling anointing oil and handkerchiefs for huge amounts of money. Those who buy these handkerchiefs can get visa miraculously to travel to Europe or to the USA. Every handkerchief varied in price according to the visa of the nation. Of course, the handkerchief for USA was the most expensive one, followed by those EU countries.
We are selling miracles, and Jesus’ voice echoes from the Bible telling us: “my house shall be the house of prayers for the nations, but you have turned it into the den of the robbers”! The Pentecostal movement should come up with a sound, biblical and practical teachings on how to manage money, assets, properties so on and so forth. We have to promote financial transparency. Likewise, we have to be bold in speaking about financial ethics to leaders and ministers who exaggerate in spending money or having a luxurious lifestyle.
This is my opinion: I do not think it is appropriate for men of God to advertise and preach about their villas and how many Rolex watches they have in their closet, and still say that they need money for the ministry. I cannot understand why some leaders stay in hotels which costs 10,000 euros per night, and still asks for more money for the sake of the ministry. Something is terribly wrong here! If a famous celebrity, or a CEO of a multi-million company does that, sure, I can understand. But not a person who calls himself/herself a servant of God.
8. Ignorance versus Awareness
This brings me to the eighth point where the Pentecostal movement should be zeroing in: the caring for the marginalized in the society. We are busy with miracles that are self-serving. Miracles that are promoting and basically oriented to ourselves or to our ministry. We strongly emphasize on signs and wonders, whereby we neglect the fruits of the Holy Spirit which are humility, love, forgiveness, among others. We are too busy loving God that we forget to love our neighbors. We forget that God is loved through loving our neighbors. God is worshiped when we visit a sick, or someone in prison, or help a migrant! The Pentecostal movement should not only be active in over night prayer meetings and fasting, but the Pentecostal movement should act out the belief that God is found in loving and caring for people, and not only in words. We are too often busy with our festivals and events like conferences, conventions and crusades, but we forget the suffering people- those who are pushed aside and neglected. But granted we help them, we have this secret agenda to convert them as Christians! We have to realize that we do not make person a believer.
It is God who choose people. Jesus said: “you did not choose for me, but I have chosen you”. When we help or care for someone, we have to help him or her without any hidden agenda, without any expectation. Rather, we must entrust them into the hand of Christ and prayerfully help them in action! We not only need anointed preachers but also caring people like the late Martin Luther King and Mother Theresa, respectively, or like many unknown volunteers for Christ in organizations such as World Vision, Tear Fund who serves the Lord through another angle of the Gospel.
9. Exclusivity of the Holy Spirit versus Generosity
Ninth, the Pentecost movement should realize that we are not the only and exclusive children of God who can access the Holy Spirit. We have to realize that we are part of the Body of Christ, and Christ does not have favorites. The Holy Spirit is neither the exclusive trademark nor limited to our denomination! He can move anywhere and in any way He wants to move! Therefore, we have to repent from our Pentecostal arrogance and begin to love and accept other Christian denominations. In fact, we can learn many things from them. May be they need more of our passion and we need more of their knowledge and organizational skills. There was this time when I was having dinner with the president of one of the famous Reformed Theological Universities. He told me that the Reformed Theology and the Holy Spirit power of the Pentecost is a very powerful and balanced combination!
As myself being a Pentecostal, I am aware of the fact that even I, have hurt many people from other denominations before.
I offended and ridiculed them. But years ago, I have repented openly in many occasions. Yes, I am also aware that people from other denominations may ridicule us, call us names and even branded as heretic, but even then, I believe we should not retaliate. We should not answer evil with evil, so to speak, but with love! Jesus does not look at our denomination or the movement where we belong. He rather examines our hearts and characters.
10. End times versus the Now!
Finally, the Pentecostal movement emphasizes too much about the end times and in such flashy way! Without a doubt, the Pentecostal movement is interested in getting people to heaven, but it should focus to the now as well. We have to realize that the creation is eagerly waiting for the sons of God for redemption. People are suffering now! The creation is suffering now! And God wants to use us as instruments of love, peace and reconciliation between man and God, and between nature and God!
I am tired of books and articles about the end times, the battles, the anti-Christ and etc… All of these books are interpretations and no one, and I emphasize no one, can say with assurance that his/her interpretation of the end time is the accurate one!
But one thing which I can say with certainty is that, that no one knows the day nor the hour, but the Father. And that I am sure Christ is coming back! But as to when and how, I do not know! Therefore until that day, or until the day I die, I do my best in fulfilling my calling and teaching the next generation to be the reformers of their times. We have to keep on reforming; we have to examine our ways constantly. We have to be the reformers of our times and once we have reformed the things that needed reformation, we have to begin reforming again and again and again. So we have to keep on watching, keep on being critical, keep on reforming! This has to be a never-ending process! This should be the task of those who call themselves new kind of Pentecostals.
11. Relevant Church
As a Pentecostal pastor, I noticed that the Christianity in the West is on the edge of a great shift- a change or a transformation in its values and views. Traveling here and there and meeting people from various denominations, have brought me to this conclusion: There is a group of people within the established church, and this includes the Pentecostal church, who are breaking through the four walls of their church structures and paradigms.
The increasing variety of services in the digital world and the ease of sharing and exchanging ideas have created a platform for these men to come out of their denominational / church borders. These men dialogue, discourse, document, compose, produce, and start discussion groups on the ideas of faith, God, the Church and Christianity. They care less about denominational differences that separate and antagonize, rather, they focus on what binds them together and not divide them. Some call them as emergent or emerging church. Obviously in the past 2 years, I have received lots of e-mails from those who are involved in the emergent or emerging church. Through this, I have had dialogues with many of them and eventually gained some as friends. Even though I do not see or call myself as an emergent believer, I still enjoy communicating and sharing with them. They inspire me as I may inspire them.
12. Open Information versus In Box Information
Whether the pastors or church leaders like it or not, people are being exposed to immense information and knowledge. They are beginning to see that there are other interpretations and other ways of practicing Christianity, not to mention the untold history of the Christian faith which they less or never heard about. Certainly, these issues bring forth reactions from the mainstream leadership especially within the Pentecostal churches. Leaders feel threatened and insecure of their positions (which is a human reaction and very well understood). The question is how are we going to deal with it? Are we going to tighten up our churches and its structures even more and hold our people to follow the system, rather said, our system? Or are we going to have an open-mind and begin to be adaptable and participate in the emerging shift which the body of Christ is going through today?
As a Pentecostal pastor, I see the urge and the necessity of interacting with people by means of a digital dialogue i.e exchanging information and allowing people who are under my “care” to likewise know the other side of every story. I choose to redefine the meaning of church and expand the walls of my ministry/church by adding to it a digital channel. By digital, I don’t mean to just have a website and be happy with it. No! What I mean is that I would use the capabilities of the Internet to dialogue and share my ideas with people and allow them to dialogue with me. Unfortunately, the unhealthy prosperity teaching in the Pentecostal church created the elite group of “holywoodized” and “performance-oriented” leadership-structures causing the people and pastors to have less or even zero contact with each other. I choose to participate in forums and discussions and I refuse to be threatened by the new ideas or new interpretations at hand but dare to dialogue and discuss in the context of love and respect which Jesus taught us in the Bible. When I choose to do so, then I would not scare people away from the church but invite them to share their ideas with me at the table of brotherhood and “digitalhood”.
13. Asking questions versus lack of faith
We have to learn to ask hard and thought-provoking questions and to respectfully receive serious answers. In our circles, asking a question could almost mean “sinning” and “lacking faith”. We have to go back to history, science, re-think biblical interpretations or contemplate alternative denominational interpretations. We could deliberate, discuss and try to come to a broader understanding of the church, Jesus and Christianity.
For instance, I think it is not a sin to question the Bible and try to find out why certain things are the way they are in it. How come the Bible is the book as it is today? I believe that majority of the Bible translations in Europe are being translated through the eyes of western ideologies by western scholars with western glasses. How about other versions of the Bible like the Eastern Church, the Ethiopian Church etc. What do they read? And why?
We have to dare to ask questions about many issues within Christianity; questions such as “Why the Western Christianity is strongly related to Zionism or why do Pentecostal Christianity is so fixated with theories and interpretations about the end times? How can we talk? How can we dialogue?
14. Multi sided literature versus one sided literature
The thirteenth point I want to raise for discussion is that, reviews of literature among the Pentecostals believers is limited to handful subjects like the end- times, Holy Spirit, anointing, spiritual warfare, prosperity, tithing etc. Some of the books we read are from two ore three decades ago. On this note, may I suggest to my Pentecostal colleagues to endeavor and expand what is dictating our literature list. There exist very interesting and inspiring books outside our denominational parameters. Let us learn by reading how others reason and what they bring. You don’t have to agree with everything these books may say, but at least you are being updated and you know how and what your fellow human being thinks!
The church should be relevant to the society and the global world. I prefer to use the term relevant church. We as Christians have to be relevant to our societies and the world in which we live. We are all inter-linked and inter-connected. We are all parts of a bigger part and therefore, Christianity should and must be involved with social issues, environmental concerns, human rights matters so on and so forth.
15. Hope in Change versus Faith in Destruction
Lastly, the relevant church should never stop hoping, dreaming and fighting for justice and righteousness in the Name of Jesus in a world where love will always have the last word and not the differences that so divide and rule us. It’s about time to grow up. It’s time to be relevant! It’s time for reforming the Pentecostalism.