A Reflection on Clark Pinnock’s “Church in the Power of the Holy Spirit”

Holy Spirit 33
Holy Spirit 33 (Photo credit: Waiting For The Word)

Pentecostal Ecclesiology?

What is Pentecostal ecclesiology? How does the flame of the Pentecostal revival challenge our preconceived notions on the theology of the church?  More specifically, what do Pentecostals have to offer on this subject to the broader spectrum of  Christianity? In his article, Church in the Power of the Holy Spirit: The Promise of Pentecostal Ecclesiology, Clark H. Pinnock addresses various themes witnessed within the Pentecostal movement, suggesting that all of Christendom could benefit from these aspects of Pentecostal ecclesiology. The promising themes covered by Pinnock  are the anointed herald of God’s kingdom, a Trinitarian society, a church oriented to mission, a fellowship of the Spirit, a continuing charismatic structure, and an institutional dimension. Pinnock explains the promising characteristics of Pentecostal ecclesiology through biblical and theological witnesses as well as his own personal experiences.

A great starting point is to preface the following arguments with a view into Pinnock’s theological background. It should be noted that Pinnock states, “Although I have kept membership in Baptist churches…I have (nevertheless) valued the worldwide charismatic renewal” (148). This “value” can be seen throughout his article, because he looks with great hope to what the Spirit is doing within the Body of Christ through the Pentecostal movement. Although he may not be affiliated with what is seen as a traditional Pentecostal denomination, Pinnock gives insight that he is charismatic in his beliefs and practices. He writes, “In 1967, I experienced a filling of the Holy Spirit at Canal Street Presbyterian Church in New Orleans when teaching at the Southern Baptist seminary” (148). He attests to fact that he has experienced healing and has also ministered healing through prayer to others. He emphatically states, “ I am one of those among evangelicals who celebrate the good things that God is doing among Pentecostals” (147).  The fact that Pinnock enters the stream of thought on a Pentecostal theology of the church from a faith tradition that generally holds to a cessationist standing gives credit to the validity of the Pentecostal movement. Thus, in return, this strengthens his following arguments for the promise of a Pentecostal ecclesiology.

First, Pinnock makes the connection between the charismatic anointing of Jesus’ ministry with charismatic ministry of the Church. This is the foundation of all that follows in his article.  In the Pentecostal view of the church, the church is seen as a continuance as an anointed herald of God’s kingdom. “The coming near of God’s kingdom in power”(150), writes Pinnock,  is central to message Christ’s proclamation in the Gospels. Pinnock states, Jesus was, “fueled by a baptism of the Holy Spirit, he preached the word of God with power and with signs following” (150). Pinnock goes on to present a paradox among New Testament scholars, in which, they attest that Jesus was charismatic, “yet, few of them take it seriously or follow Jesus in this regard” (151). Why is this? It is due to the fact that to have a charismatic ministry goes against what is secular and scientific. Today many do not have the Pentecostal view of ecclesiology, because they do not recognize the transference of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost from Jesus to the disciples. Pinnock argues, “the Spirit was transferred from Jesus to the disciples and they became successors in the charismatic ministry of the historical Jesus on earth” (151). The church is to proclaim the coming near of God’s kingdom in the same manner Jesus did with signs and wonders!

Upon reflection on the theme of an anointed herald of God’s Kingdom, I unashamedly agree with Pinnock. I believe it is accurate to state the on the day of Pentecost a charismatic baton was passed on to the disciples to continue his ministry. I cannot find a single passage of Scripture that declares the cessation of the charismatic anointing. On the other hand, Jesus states clearly in John 14:12, “Verily,verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also” (KJV, Jn. 14:12). Also, there is no denying the historical evidence of the early church being Pentecostal in their ecclesiology. For these reasons I side with Pinnock on the issue of charismatic continuance of the ministry of Jesus with the church today. Without this foundational understanding of what happened on the day of Pentecost one will not be able to grasp the argument Pinnock makes for the promise of Pentecostal ecclessiology.

Secondly, this moves us to question, why does God desire to work charismatically within the church?  The answer lies within Pinnock’s argument on the theme of a Trinitarian society. God is a giving God. He gave us his only Son and His Son gave us the gift of the Spirit. The Perichoresis or divine dance in which the Godhead is involved is one of giving, sharing, and preferring one another. Pinnock suggests, “Not only does the doctrine present God in a beautiful manner as a loveable and relational person, but it also is suggestive of an analogy of God and Church” (154).  A trinitarian ecclesiology pictures the church mirroring the relations of the Triune God.  In this analogy of God and the church, “power is not dictatorial but interactive and shared” (154).  Pinnock summarizes this point when he writes, “The church therefore seeks to be a temporal echo of these trinitarian relations” (154). The charisms or gifts which are active in a Pentecostal ecclesiology reflect the self-giving nature of the Triune God, because they are meant to better the community as a whole and not only the individual.

Until know I have not thought much about how the Perichoresis (divine dance) of the Trinity relates to a proper Pentecostal ecclesiology. Pinnock illustrates the importance of the doctrine to the mission of the church. He states, “The mission of the church can be seen as rooted in the trinitarian missions of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit. With God we reach out to the lost and broken and gather them into the everlasting community of God” (155). This resonates to the very core of the Pentecostal movement, because God invites broken creatures to join Him and participate in the ministry of reconciliation. This concept backs up Pinnock’s point on the promise of Pentecostal ecclesiology.

Thirdly, for Pinnock to be caught up in this divine dance (perichoresis) is directly related to the importance of mission in Pentacoastal ecclesiology. Pinnock writes, “ Mission is inherent in Christianity according to the New Testament. It is also at the heart of the Pentecostal movement as everyone must acknowledge” (155).  Due to the fact of experiencing God’s love and empowerment of Spirit the church is oriented to mission. The universality of the gospel compels the church to advance forward to the ends of the earth with the ministry of reconciliation.

In a Pentecostal eccesiology the church is a called out body empowered by the Spirit to declare the Good News. Jesus has given the church an apostolic calling, just as the Father gave him. Jesus empowered the church by the giving of the Holy Spirit.  Pinnock states, “Being apostolic is basic to what it means to be church” (155).

In this form of ecclesiology, “non-believers are drawn by the power of it” (156). God is not distant, but inhabits this community. Just as in Jesus’ ministry it is unmistakable that God is with them for within the community the redeeming power of God is made manifest for a broken world to see and draw near.

Pentecostals view the apostolicity of the church not in a historical or restoration of apostolic doctrine, but in an “recovery of apostolic mission with signs following” (156). We are to “be the church” and not just come to church. In order to “be the church” which was sent out by Jesus the power has to be witnessed. The signs following the church are not to point to the individuals in the church, but are to point to Christ and completion of His mission. In charismatic realms the church is not only to know about God’s power, but to reveal God’s power to a lost world. A Pentecostal ecclesiology is a missional ecclesiology. We are sent in the power of the Spirit to tell the story of Christ’s reconciliation of a broken world.

Furthermore, this “God in the midst” of the church is further enhanced as Pinnock mentions the aspect within the Pentecostal ecclesiology of the “experiential approach that emphasizes an encounter with the supernatural” (157). By this phrase,  Pinnock is saying that the church is a fellowship of the Spirit. God is not a distant God, but He is encountered supernaturally within this community. God is also encountered through the Word and the sacraments, but the format of worship is not rigid. Yet, rather it is spontaneous in nature. The entire community of faith has something to bring in assembly through the charisms given to them. People are allowed to flow with Spirit in supernatural utterances that edify the rest of the congregation.

This fluidity of the Spirit within the community of faith is paramount. The lack of the this experiential aspect of Pentecostal ecclessiology could be the direct cause of many leaving mainline denominations. People need to know that God is alive and is capable of meeting them at their point of need. God is the God of the living! There is nothing wrong with ritual and symbolism, but they must be infused with this experience of the Spirit of the living God.

Furthermore, this fluidity is not to be interpreted as chaos, because God is a God of order. There must be a continuing charismatic structure within the church. Pinnock states, “If the church is anointed herald of God’s kingdom, she will need to have a continuing charismatic structure” (159).  This continuing structure is crucial for the furtherance of the Church and its message of reconciliation to the lost. In this structure, the rightful place of the priesthood of all believers must be maintained for the Body to function and be on mission. Pinnock writes, “The New Testament does not make a distinction between charismatic and non-charismatic believers” (160). In the early church, all believers had gifts to be shared with the Body. Some of this gifts may have been charisms of office or other (seemingly) spectacular manifestations.

Although, in this community some are gifted with offices they are not to be lauded over other believers, because all members of the Body of Christ are priest and ministers.  Pinnock explains, “The fact that the church has a charismatic structure does not mean there is no place for office” (160). Leadership in the church should be inclusive and “we must resist clericalization of the church” (Pinnock,160). God does place individuals in places of authority, but they are to exercise authority for the betterment of the Body.

Finally, with the talk of the charismatic structure we come to an institutional dimension of the church. Pinnock writes, “In any social movement there is going to be an institutional dimension” (161). This is true of the church, as well. Pinnock explains this institutional dimension further by saying:

It is not so much a question of whether the church has an institutional dimension, but of what kind. There are meetings to arrange, business to be conducted, leaders requiring recognition, teaching to be provided, services to be performed, and so on. The church needs structures to continue. The main thing from a biblical point of view is that the institutional elements be functional and flexible (Pinnock, 162).

According to Pinnock, institutional aspects are necessary, but they cannot “quench the Spirit” or hamper the church from flowing with the Spirit of God. Institutional traditions should be scrutinized for missional value and abandoned when it compromises the integrity or agenda of the Spirit of God. We must remember we are God’s people called to God’s purpose. This purpose is allowing the Spirit to move in us as He sees fit.

In conclusion, Pinnock’s article, Church in the Power of the Holy Spirit: The Promise of Pentecostal Ecclessiology has ignited in me a new appreciation for practices of the Pentecostal movement. It is simply amazing that God has called us out to an anointed herald of His kingdom coming near to the world. It is a sobering sense of responsibility, when you think of Jesus transferring his anointing to us to fulfill God’s plan of redemption for mankind.  He has called us to experience the love and unity of the perichoresis of the Holy Trinity in Spirit-filled communities around the globe. Our communities beckoning the hope of restoration and reconciliation to those that are apart from Christ. How we view or “do” church greatly effects the way we see mission. Let us always flow with the stream of the Spirit and remain fluid to better reach mankind. All of these themes have definitely changed the way I view Pentecostal ecclessiology! I am in total agreement with Clark Pinnock. All of Christendom needs to heed the Spirit’s stirring among the Body of Christ in Pentecostal circles. The church can fulfill the Great Commission more effectively if we take in the consideration of a Pentecostal ecclessiology.

Works Cited

Pinnock, Clark H. “Church In The Power Of The Holy Spirit: The Promise Of Pentecostal Ecclesiology.” Journal Of Pentecostal Theology 14.2 (2006): 147-165. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials. Web. 23 Sept. 2013.

The Holy Bible. King James Version. Nashville: Thomas Nelson: 1976.