Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Are Pentecostals Mystics? Some simple answers.

Mysticism can be broadly defined as a direct experience of God's presence.  The Pentecostal experience of being "baptized in the Spirit," or even just "filled with the Spirit" certainly falls under this category.  Not only do charismatic churches practice regular contact with the Holy Spirit, they emphasize it.  It is perhaps partly because of this experiential emphasis that Charismatic Christianity is the fastest growing segment of the Christian church worldwide.  After all, what better way to convince skeptics of the existence of God than to have them feel His presence?  But this is not an article about Apologetics.  It's an attempt to briefly show the disconnect between the two traditions, with a vague wish for their mutual inclusion.

People who do google searches on mysticism, or who devour books on meditation, are probably unlikely to get into Pentecostalism.  Maybe they had a crazy aunt who went to an Assembly of God church and have forever associated these congregations with lunatics and snake-handlers.  And mainline Protestant Christians, or Catholics, who seek wisdom in the saints and the practice of centering prayer might consider Pentecostals to be an embarrassing oxymoron:  pseudo-mystical folk-culture that is too low brow to actually study the ancient traditions of contemplative practice.

Still, it seems as if it's the Pentecostals themselves that resist the term mystic even more.  It could be because mysticism is used to describe all sorts of spirituality these days.  Whether New Age crystal healing or mantras in Sanskrit, the term "mystical" may conjure things that have traditionally been seen as heresy--"mystical" kind of resembles the more blasphemous "magical."   But so what?  Is there any other basis for rejecting the term, other than simply not realizing that it has roots in the Christian tradition?  After all, most Pentecostals maintain (at least in their official doctrine) a very conservative theology, sometimes bordering on fundamentalism.  And while there are clear descriptions of the Pentecost experience in the New Testament, biblical references to the inward reflections involved in centering prayer seem scant in comparison, at least to many Charismatics.  

I don't personally believe there to be a lack of biblical evidence for either the expressive, communal mysticism of Pentecostals or the introverted, silent, and solitary mysticism of the monk.  In fact, a part of me thinks I shouldn't have to even write a blog post on this.  But after scrolling through many websites and publications on Christianity and Christian devotion, I am always amazed to see how much divisiveness there is.  In fact, some sites - and even some pastors - devote themselves much more to what they are against than what they are for, fervently declaring what Christianity is not rather than what it is.

The vast majority of Christians state that they have had an experience where they felt the presence of God. In this sense, mysticism is the norm rather than the exception.




-Clint Sabom is an award-winning writer and former aspirant monk. His book, Preparation For Great Light: Recollections Of A Christian Mystic will be released on Amazon on March 15, 2017.  
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