Why is Continualism Growing and Where is it Headed?

This article is part two of a two part piece, “Globalization and The Broader Continualist Movement”.  Originally, both parts were a single research paper I submitted to Fuller Theological Seminary for a course on Globalization, the Poor, and Christian Mission.  Click Here for Part One.

A Theological Explanation for Continualist Success in Globalization

The theological and ecclesiological practice within Continualism is exceedingly diverse.  Continualism finds successful expression and growth in the attractional model of Hodges’ Church of the Highlands and ARC in as much as the liturgical expression found in African Anglicans (Stetzer 2013) and the Catholic Charismatic Renewal.  Doctrinally, the Baptism in the Holy Spirit as well as the corresponding Pauline gifts and the glossolalia are expressed through believers in Holiness and Calvinist traditions, in the Emergent Church movement, in both classic Trinitarian and Oneness theology.  The common thread within the movement is its resemblance to the lukan account at Pentecost: a people group whose emphasized the power of the Holy Spirit working through the believer for the purpose of carrying out the fulfillment of the Great Commission on the earth.  Continualism thrives today by the same means seen in the book of Acts.  Its success has not been found through a particular method of “doing church” nor has it been found in a particular set of doctrinal positions.  Its growth is not because they are a people of dispensational premillennialism (for not all of them are), or a people who abstained from alcohol (as not all of them do), or even a people who spoke in tongues, but rather because they are a people of the Spirit, committed to the Spirit’s work on the earth.

Additionally, continualism finds success in its globalization efforts in that its adherents are passionately devoted to global missions, a secondary reason which is rooted in the first.  Assemblies of God historian, Dr. Edith Waldvogel Blumhofer observed that, “The Baptism in the Holy Spirit tended to stimulate interest in missions.  Challenged with the needs of a lost and soon-to-be-judged world, Spirit-baptized people sought opportunities for service” (Blumhofer 1985:74).

The working of the Holy Spirit is a unifying force within Christianity, calling the people of God to the unified passion and like-mindedness described in Luke’s use of ὁμοθυμαδόν to describe the state of the Church at the coming of the Spirit (Acts 1.14; 2.1;46; 4.24; 5.12; 8.6).  It is a God-produced unity through which the Holy Spirit operates for the purpose of the proclamation of the gospel, which appears to be the chief export produced from Spirit-Baptism both in the Early Church as well as modern continualism.  One can take Jesus’ words to account when He foretold that the Apostles would “receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you” that power, however, was not without purpose but so that they could “be [His] witnesses…to the end of the earth” (Acts 1.8).  Acts chapters one and two lay at the heart of continualist theology.  This reality can only logically conclude that if Spirit-Baptism remains for today (which the continualist concludes thus) then it exists for the purpose of global evangelism (“to the end of the earth”), which continualist sects have clearly demonstrated.

The effect of Spirit-Baptism and ὁμοθυμαδόν (Gk: “in one accord”, meaning a God-given, like-minded passion) in the Body of Christ is ecumenical unity.  A modestly proportionate correlation can be drawn between the two throughout Christian history.  As Spirit-filled praxis was strong in the Christian Church, so was Christian unity.  The Church Fathers bore witness until the third century that there existed portions of the Church which operated in the Gifts of the Spirit, with such mentions disappearing in the late third century (Bercot 1998: 298-303).  Though a direct cause and effect cannot be established, one can clearly see an proportionate correlation between the waning of Spirit-filled praxis and diminished unity of the Christian Church.  Origen testified to the existence, yet diminished role of Spirit-filled praxis when he stated:

“There are still preserved among Christians traces of that Holy Spirit that appeared in the form of a dove. They expel evil spirits, perform many cures, and foresee certain events” (Bercot 1998: 301)

and again:

“Traces of those signs and wonders are still preserved among those who regulate their lives by the teachings of the Gospel.” (Bercot 1998: 301)

Not long thereafter history records the rise of tension between the Alexandrian and Antiochan schools, followed by centuries of splintering, conflict, and even persecution between Christian sects (Aaron 2013: 89).  The Holy Spirit is indeed the “lifeblood of the church” and, while His absence is cause for chaos, His presence is its “vivifying force” (Kenneson 1999:15).  Though there was an immediate series of further splintering in the church following the Azusa Revival in the producing of Pentecostal denominations, one can bear witness to a substantial increase in ecumenical cooperation and mission since the Charismatic Renewal caused a Spirit-Baptism experience to become commonplace outside of Pentecostal denominations inasmuch as it existed within them.  It is my belief that we are witnessing once again, the advent of a period of Christian history marked by an increased correlation of both Spirit-filled praxis within the church and increased Christian unity, particularly as it concerns mission (once again, the chief export of ὁμοθυμαδόν, both in the first century and today).  Pastor Greg Surratt, president of ARC, advises the lead team of their network that not only is their network non-denominational, but that it is inter-denominational in relationship.  In an e-mail message received by Surratt on November 17, 2015, Surratt stated, “You don’t have to leave your tribe to be a part of ours” and that ARC actually “encourage[s] you to keep your current relationships as [they] partner to plant.”  While the middle ages bore witness to incredible turmoil within the Christian Church, the late twentieth and twenty-first centuries have produced a trend of churches working in common, pooling resources through church planting networks like ARC and Acts 29, to bring about their evangelization on a global scale.

At present the Christian Church is experiencing both an increase in the Holy Spirit’s activity as it relates to the rate at which Christianity is growing as well as the continued growth of continualism as the primary driving force behind Christianity’s growth.  Peter’s exposition of Joel 2 (Acts 2.14-17) whereas God foretold an outpouring of the Holy Spirit “on all flesh” seems inasmuch for today as it did the Church of Acts. This is to consider that Peter (and Joel, whom he cites) regards “the last days” (Acts 2.17) as not intended to mean a period of time immediately following Pentecost, nor are they only of today, or of the days immediately preceding the parousia, but instead Peter speaks of the inauguration of the church aeon of history in which the people of God, empowered by the Spirit, are charged with making disciples “of all nations” (Matthew 28.19), spanning Pentecost to parousia. In these last days the Gifts of the Spirit, in operation within continualist Christianity, remain the driving force behind both the incessant desire to proclaim the gospel on a global scale.  But it seems, like the first century Christians who were “in one accord”, the spread of a Spirit-filled praxis, which disregards theological and denominational demarcations is to bring about an ecumenical cooperation and unity unlike anything the Christian Church has witnessed in the last 1,600 years.

Missiological Implications for the Future of the Globalization of Continualism

Though one can only draw a hypothesis for what the future has to offer, it is my belief that both secular and Christian trends in globalization as well as a regard for globalization in light of eschatology point to a Christian Church which will be marked by several significant characteristics.  First, continualism will continue to spread and will increase in prominence within the global church as the center of Christendom shifts toward Latin America, Asia, and Africa (which are largely continualist due to missionary efforts in the twentieth century).  I believe it is likely as this shift occurs that the influence of cessationism within the global church will be diminished substantially.  That is not to say that mission-minded cessationist movements will diminish numerically.  Rather, the “rising tides lift all boats” adage is likely applicable, whereas the growth of Christianity as a whole will likely contribute to those churches, though cessasionist in theology, maintain a dedicated orientation to the mission of God (Stetzer 2014).

Secondly, the ecclesiological style and methods will converge within churches with a disregard for historical stereotypes.  The mental images of demonstrative song and dance being associated with Pentecostalism while somber liturgy and choral music being associated with an Anglican/Episcopal tradition will blur.  M. Rex Miller describes this a shift toward a “convergence” style church where churches “will develop skills to create collaborative experience. You might think of this as a techno-Quaker meeting, a jazz ensemble, or improvisational theater” (Miller 2004: 89).  He adds:

These interactive assemblies transcend the challenge of trying to choose the right style for the service—whether contemporary, traditional, youth, or blended. They will also transcend age barriers and be more inclusive of youth and elders” (Miller 2004: 90).

This trend seems particularly immediately accessible between Anglicanism and continualist churches.  While Welby is himself a continualist and continualism has had profound influence on Anglican Churches, particularly in Africa (Stetzer 2013), there is increased attention among continualists toward liturgical forms of worship yet in a syncretic form which retains continualist theology.  One such example is Pastor Glenn Packiam, the campus pastor of New Life Church’s downtown campus in Colorado Springs, Colorado.  Packiam serves on staff at a church whose lead pastor (Pastor Brady Boyd) comes from an Assemblies of God background and who leads the main campus of New Life Church in a style similar to many contemporary AG churches.  Yet Packiam’s downtown campus possesses a much more “Spirit-filled liturgical” feel and Packiam himself is a priest in the Anglican Church in North America (Packiam 2015).

Fourthly, the scope of denominations will change dramatically.  Whereas denominations have been traditionally defined along theological and cultural boundaries (“how I am different than you”), there will be an increased effort to find common ground (“In what areas are we alike”) and work cooperatively to engage in Christian mission.  Denominations will begin to operate and mirror radically successful organizations like ARC and Acts 29, which are more “network” than denomination.  In these networks, churches adhere to a common creed or statement of belief and then are generally governed by relational affiliation with other churches and pastors rather than a district or diocese.  That is not to say that denominations will cease to exist or even wane in influence.  Rather, the nature of how they engage each other and how they engage in Christian mission will be more network and relationship based than at present. 

Fifthly, denominations and church networks will retain their unique tribal identity but will develop logistical and strategic partnerships with one another.  The Assemblies of God has been a forerunner in this type of partnership with its 2014 logistic alliance with the historically African-American United Pentecostal Council of the Assemblies of God (UPCAG) in which the two denominations maintain their unique autonomy but grant access to systems and programs while determining to foster relationship between the two previously-divided sects (Tracy 2014).  It is unlikely to see whole mergers between denominations or networks. It is instead more likely that denominations will retain cultural identity but continualist prioritization of the mission of God coupled with the Spirit’s work in returning the church to a ὁμοθυμαδόν kind of relationship.  Rather than operating as independent agents, these sects will begin operating as tribes of the same “chosen race” (1 Peter 2.9). 

Lastly, the diminished hierarchal role of denominations will create a globalized church whose structure mirrors the hypothesis of Fareed Zakaria’s prediction of a globalized “rise of the rest”:

“In a post-American world, there may be no center to integrate into…the twenty- first-century world might be better described as one of point-to-point routes, with new flight patterns being mapped every day” (Zakaria 2012: 39).

In kind, the church of the next hundred years will move away from the hierarchal structure which has existed, in some way or form, since Constantine, and evolve into a point-to-point route style church akin to the manner in which Paul oversaw his church plants in the Scriptures.  Rather than a diocese to which a church must answer, many individual churches instead will be governed by apostolic overseers who pastor other churches, develop strategic partnerships with “sibling churches” and will oversee and raise up other churches to parent.  In essence, the Church which greets Christ at the parousia will be one whose structure resembles a large collection of atoms than a pyramid.

Conclusion

In this piece I have proposed that it is not Pentecostalism alone which is currently at the forefront of the globalization of Christianity, but rather a broader Spirit-filled continualist movement which includes Pentecostalism as well as a diverse host of other Spirit-filled believers.  I have clearly outlined the distinctive definitions of each of the subcategories under the umbrella of continualism and have discussed the history of continualism and its rise to global prominence.  I’ve proposed that though continualism is the sub-grouping within Christianity responsible for the growth of the faith, it is in actuality a theological realization of the Holy Spirit’s intended work on the earth in the last days.  Lastly, I have hypothesized what the missiological implications are of the continualist movement’s globalized influence upon the Christian Church.  Whether my hypotheses are correct, what is abundantly clear from Scripture is that at the parousia, a globalized church comprised of every tongue and tribe is what will hail Christ as Lord.  To what extent the full globalization of Christianity will have been realized upon the return of Christ is uncertain, but it is clear that the Holy Spirit is working and active in the world today, using God’s people as agents to declare the victory of Christ to the ends of the earth.

References

References

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Todd Korpi (@toddkorpi) and his wife Tara planted and pastor The Cathedral, a life-giving church in Flint, Michigan. Todd and Tara live in downtown Flint with their three daughters and a golden retriever named Karl Barth. Todd has a passion for helping urban church planters, particularly in the rust belt of the northern United States. He has a B.S. in Church Ministries from Evangel University and is currently finishing a M.A. in Global Leadership at Fuller Theological Seminary. His debut book, "The Life Giving Spirit: The Victory of Christ in Missional Perspective" is scheduled to be released in March 2017. Find out more about Todd and The Cathedral at www.thecathedral.is

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