Growing up–especially when we lived on Lookout Mountain, something of a fantasy land in itself–I always enjoyed the Disney movies and records I could take in or had. One of those that’s stuck with me is the song “Very Good Advice” from Alice in Wonderland. The clip from the movie is below:
Today is the Feast of Christ the King where, in addition to celebrating Our Lord’s coming return, we put a wrap on one liturgical year and prepare for the beginning of another with the First Sunday in Advent. Considering the liturgical year brings me to a topic that, I think, needs to be discussed: the growing interest that some Pentecostals have in Anglicanism and other liturgical/apostolic churches, and specifically my adventure (or lack of it) in this process.
This website has been around for over two decades and I’ve been on social media (first Facebook, then Twitter) for almost half that time. Much of what’s driven that has been my participation in the “Anglican Revolt,” so much of what’s here is aimed in that direction. It’s almost innate for me to discuss Anglican/Episcopalian and Roman Catholic things because I was raised in one and spent much of my early adult life in another; my intellectual formation (and first entry into the Charismatic/Pentecostal world) came largely from my years as a Roman Catholic. And I’ve gotten into some interesting dialogues with my Anglican, Catholic and Orthodox visitors, some positive, some not as much.
Engaging my Pentecostal friends in a dialogue has been another matter altogether. With a few exceptions, the general response from that direction has been silence. In the meanwhile I see them posting things such as nice Anglican churches, interest in liturgy and even evidence that they sneak into an Episcopal Church from time to time. After my father’s experience in trying to get through the shoals of the Bahamas without a native guide, I thought that they might like one as well, with perhaps some “good advice.” But by and large they have not, preferring to risk hitting the reef and going to the bottom.
There are a couple of things that need to be said at this point.
The first is that I’d be the first one to admit that there are many problems with Pentecostal/Charismatic churches these days. Coming from a tradition of spontaneity and Spirit-led worship, worship in many of these churches is a well-programmed floor show. There’s too much emphasis on income generation and system maintenance, which (unBiblical though it is) is a lot easier to carry out in the demographic of, say, the Episcopal Church than it is with most Pentecostal and Charismatic churches. And, of course, there’s always the political element, although in this country both sides of the debate have too many of their eggs in the political basket.
The second is that, relative to those of us who are products of liturgical/apostolic churches, people who are raised in a Pentecostal church are products of an alternative universe. That means that they often don’t “get” what they’re looking at, or how might be used to improve their own situation. For example, I have yet to see a cogent explanation from any Pentecostal about what a “sacrament” is, or what it’s supposed to do, or why they’re important, or how sacramental theology differs substantially from what we’ve been regaled with up until now. And potential cognitive dissonance extends to other topics. For example, with Advent coming up, how do you plan to turn the Christmas season into an Advent one after years of Dickensenian conditioning? How do we do Lent when many of our congregations have already run off and done the Daniel Diet in January? Will we ever ditch Bill Clinton’s Eucharistic Theology? Or how do we incorporate the move of the Spirit into liturgical worship? (Having experienced this myself, I really thought that people would be interested in it, but silly me…) Instead of tackling these questions head-on, what I see these days is Pentecostal thinkers papering over the problems with post-modern fudge (which, sad to say, is too much like Anglican fudge, with potentially the same result.)
Unlike some people, I don’t have any problem investigating “how the other half lives.” In some respects that’s what I’ve done here for a long time. What bothers me is that others that do aren’t interested in the experience and observations of those who have trod the path, even if they had started from another place and took the path in a different direction.
And that leads me to something that bothers me even more: that these investigations, for some at least, are a part of moving up. Pentecostal churches have two things that most of American Christianity only dreams of: the preferential option of the poor and ethnic diversity. Nevertheless, in spite of rhetoric to the contrary, it seems that some who trod the Anglican/Episcopal road want to end up in a place which, really, has neither, because their own life situation no longer matches the state of their church. And that, of course, will draw them into the struggles which have convulsed the Anglican/Episcopal world for the last half century. Which side will they choose? I am fearful, if for no other reason than that they will project their own problems with their own past into the conflict.
But, as I said at the start, many eschew the native guide. Like Alice, they peer into the Gothic cathedrals and churches “through the looking glass” not realising what they’re really peering into is a palantir. Those of us who have slogged through the battles with the likes of KJS and now Justin Welby know what’s coming but theological Siegfrieds know no fear at their peril. They and their churches will end up pointless and they will, like Alice in the video at the start of this post, will end up crying in the dark, wishing they had taken some good advice.