Thursday, November 13, 2008

quakers & pentecostals

Today I visited Drew University's Graduate Division of Religion to see if I want to do a PhD there. I'm still thinking about it--I liked the school and the people, but I'm not sure if the program is an exact fit for me. I might apply anyway, just to see what happens, but it's a lot of work to apply places I might not want to go.

Anyway, I sat in on a class called "Pentecostalism as Religious Resistance." It was really interesting! There were two guest speakers today, two pastors probably in their 30s, who shared about what their denominational theology, particularly their pneumatology (their perception of the Spirit) is all about. I've learned about Pentecostalism in my church history classes and such, but not quite as in-depth, or perhaps just not quite as theologically--we learned the history but not necessarily the beliefs as they're practiced now.

I found it interesting the connections between Quakerism and Pentecostalism, as well as the major differences.

First the similarities: obviously, Pentecostals emphasize the role of the Spirit, which is similar to Quakers. We both agree that baptism by the Holy Spirit is necessary, and that any other outward ritual isn't what confers this baptism. The Spirit blows where it wills, and baptizes whomever it wants, and a priest cannot control this or force it. I'm not clear whether Pentecostals still baptize with water, although I think they do--they would be more similar to Anabaptists in this regard, where baptism with water is an initiation into the community of faith (the Body of Christ), but the Spirit anoints one with the power to do ministry, etc.

Because of this emphasis on the role of the Spirit, Quakers and Pentecostals both allow anyone to be a minister. One doesn't have to receive any kind of formal education or training in order to speak in a worship service or provide more formal leadership (pastoring in a Pentecostal or programmed Friends church). Both have space in the service for spoken ministry of anyone gathered who feels led by the Spirit. Both emphasize individual empowerment by the Spirit, and so in both the individual's personal experience is central.

The differences, however, are also quite interesting. For Pentecostals, "baptism by the Holy Spirit" necessarily means the person speaks in tongues. This is not the first time they experience the Spirit--they have already converted and known the Spirit--but it's like sanctification in the Holiness tradition: it's a level deeper than the initial stage, where one receives empowerment by the Spirit in a new way. This means one can be a minister or do other leadership for the community. Tongues is something everyone is believed to be able to do, and shows the presence of the Spirit in a deeper way, or perhaps is an expression of emotions one feels that one doesn't have words for. There is also the gift of tongues, which is only available to some, and which needs an interpreter (according to Paul). This is a prophetic word or something of the sort, not something spoken when everyone is speaking together, but spoken when the congregation is listening, and should be interpreted right then and there (apparently it can be interpreted by the speaker if necessary).

Quakers, on the other hand, believe the Spirit is manifest in various ways, and tend to think we shouldn't limit the Spirit to only show up in the form of tongues. Most (American) Quakers would probably be very surprised indeed if someone spoke in tongues during worship, although I assume most Quakers would not be against it completely--but it's definitely not seen as normative. Quakers don't have a way of quantifying whether or not one has been baptized by the Spirit, and in some ways this is a weakness--we don't have any particular criteria, so it's hard to know if one has actually been baptized or not. But I think the "proof" is in the fruits: do our actions show the Fruits of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, self-control)? Pentecostals emphasize these as well, and were quick to point out that just because someone speaks in tongues doesn't mean that from day to day they speak or do only what the Spirit tells them to.

Another major difference is in demographics. I think it's really interesting that Pentecostalism is so popular among minority groups as well as those who are lower-middle or working class Americans, and it is also the fastest growing Christian form worldwide. One of the things the professor of this course pointed out was that people seem to be drawn to Pentecostalism when they are feeling like something is missing, or when they're feeling marginalized.

Quakers, on the other hand, are generally middle- or upper-middle class Westerners, and Quakers outside the USA and Europe generally look a lot more like Pentecostals than like unprogrammed Friends. In the States, Quakers do not draw people of lower socio-economic status. They might advocate for them, but for the most part "they" remain "them." We are comfortable in our social group of people like us, and although we have compassion on people who are being marginalized, we don't do much to make "them" feel welcome in our meetings.

An interesting thing that these two Pentecostal pastors said was that in minority communities who are Pentecostal, there is a "brain drain" of young people who are grow up here and are educated. Once they become assimilated into American culture they usually go to a different denomination--usually a mainline one (Lutheran, Presbyterian, United Methodist, etc.). They are not attracted to Pentecostalism with its lay leaders, crazy-looking outpourings of who-knows-what-spirit, and marginalized people.

It is interesting that Quakers, with our similar emphases on personal experience and no requirements for education still attract middle class, educated people. This probably has not always been the case--the first generations of Friends were not all educated and many of them were from the lower classes--but Quakerism seems to have always appealed to educated people of higher classes as well. I think this is because it attempts to divorce the symbolism from that which is symbolized, and to focus on the truth behind the symbol rather than the symbol itself. I think this appeals more to people who enjoy more of an internal spirituality.

Perhaps Pentecostalism and Quakerism are the same religion, only practiced by people who are more extroverted or tactile on the one hand, or more introverted and introspective on the other.

One of the sad things is that now Pentecostals are beginning to require some education--at least Bible college--for their pastors. I think this could be good--obviously I'm getting a religious education so I don't think it's all bad! But at the same time, I wish there was a way to balance making sure that people have the training they need with the ability to attend to the Spirit from wherever it comes. Perhaps if people who showed gifts of leadership and ministry were sent to get religious training (all expenses paid) by their congregation, that would be more fair. But to say that one has to go get religious training on one's own, or in a system that doesn't pay any attention to one's gifting in spiritual matters and only tries to train one's brain to think a certain way--that is perhaps counter productive.

The topic of this class was interesting, but the class session itself I also found interesting. Drew is historically a Methodist school, but the Graduate Division of Religion is not a confessing school (it's not required to be a Christian, classes aren't necessarily taught from a Christian perspective although they are studying Christianity). And yet, in this class of 6 students, a professor, 2 Pentecostal pastors and me, several of the students shared their testimonies (or parts of them), shared about their personal experiences of the Spirit (some through speaking in tongues), and the professor made it clear that he has experienced the Spirit as well. Two students had their Bibles out, and at the end of class we all held hands and prayed.

At my school--a confessing seminary where almost everyone here is a Christian and where classes are taught with the assumption that people believe this stuff--I don't remember the last time someone had an English Bible out or read the Bible as edification rather than study. I have never been in a class where we held hands to pray, and we rarely pray together as a class (although we did in one of my classes a week or two ago). I have never heard people share in that kind of depth or with that kind of passion about their experiences of the Spirit. People share about their beliefs and their struggles, their sense of tension between academia and experiential knowledge, etc., but no one really shares passionately from their heart and their lived experience in the classroom. I thought that was really interesting.

I don't know that that's representative of many of the classes that happen there, but I was intrigued by it. Perhaps here we are trying too hard to fit in to "the academy," so much so that we aren't even as spiritually aware as non-confessional schools!

(Disclaimer: I DO like it here--don't worry. And the professors here are all Christians who view their academic work as a spiritual practice, and as far as I can tell this is how most of them connect with God.)


Anonymous said...

Cherice, your descriptions of the Drew and the class you visited, compared with those you have taken at Princeton, is fascinating. I know little about Drew, but what you said is very interesting. It would be interesting to see how the prof at Drew would react to your impressions, based on the one class. I'll be s/he would thing you had a lot of accurate insights.

Gr. Ralph

Anonymous said...

Very good article!

Praise God!!

MLawton of NH

Anonymous said...

Very interesting thoughts indeed. I was very glad to read your thoughts on Pentecostalism as a Quaker, seeing that I myself am a Pentecostal who has presently become very interested in the Quakers. I was particularly struck by your statement: “Perhaps Pentecostalism and Quakerism are the same religion, only practiced by people who are more extroverted or tactile on the one hand, or more introverted and introspective on the other.” I feel that is particularly insightful. As a Pentecostal son of Pentecostals, I have been raised with a sort of awareness that we owe some of our origins to the Quakers; sort of viewing historical Quakers as spiritual ancestors. The ideas of waiting on the Spirit, seeking for the voice of God and even that of inner Light are interwoven into our thought processes. As a child growing up in the even older Pentecostal churches, this concept of coming together to wait on the Spirit was fundamental. It was very often preached that a meeting (which we also called them) was not complete until the Spirit “showed up” or “poured out” ect. In my mother’s and grandmother’s day it was common for people to meet at the Church and pray before the service ever began; thus praying in the service. Once the “Spirit fell” the service would begin. Spontaneous prophecy and ministry were very common, and each service was open to the congregation to stand and speak as led of the Spirit. In fact I have found it very interesting that the Quakers use the term “unprogramed” or “programmed” to describe their worship. As a child that was a mantra in the Churches we worshipped in. “We do not follow a program, we follow the Spirit!” (I also think a difference is the noise level – perhaps Pentecostals are loud Quakers.)

I find Quakerism interesting because I feel that at some point Pentecostalism lost its way in some respects. Tent meetings turned into rock concerts. Spirit-filled evangelists turned into rock-stars. I see in the simplicity of Quakersim something of the original spirit of Pentecostalism. People gathered together, in unity, to seek the fresh breath of the Spirit. I think you are right; we may be practicing the same religion in different ways. Or perhaps, reading some of the thoughts of Quakers and knowing the concerns of Pentecostals, we are striving to arrive at the same destination. Perhaps we could learn from one another. Perhaps we desperately need to.

Anonymous said...

A truly top-notch post!