Saturday, September 22, 2007

Proof that fundamentalist denominations aren't fundamental but reflect history

This is about the claim that denominations traditionally called 'fundamentalist', which are strictly speaking not all part of it although very similar, are representative of the early Christian Church before distortions took place. I want to look at the Pentecostal Church as represented by the Assemblies of God.

The Pentecostals are sort of the easiest group to do this with because they put so much emphasis on the Holy Spirit. There's been a lot written on the place of the Holy Spirit in the Trinity. What you find over and over in Assemblies of God literature are statements saying, sometimes explicitly sometimes less explicitly, that the Baptism of the Holy Spirit was commanded by Jesus and that the Baptism of the Holy Spirit as experienced by Pentecostals today comes through Jesus, or that Jesus commands it to happen.

They believe in the Trinity, so they don't think that the Holy Spirit is just some emanation from Jesus. The issue is who controls the Holy Spirit: is it God the Father alone or God the Father and Jesus. Can God alone command the Holy Spirit or can Jesus as well? Although the Trinity is equal within itself there is a hierarchy, and whether the Holy Spirit proceeds from God the Father alone or through both Jesus and God the Father is important.

It's also a fundamental divide between Western and Orthodox Christianity. Western Christianity believes that the Holy Spirit can be commanded and sent both by God the Father and by Jesus, while Orthodox Christianity believes that only God the Father can command and send the Holy Spirit.

Practically, this means that since all the parts of the Trinity are part of God that God doesn't need to delegate power regarding the Holy Spirit to Jesus. Instead, God can work through the Holy Spirit directly. Furthermore, by asserting that the Holy Spirit proceeds from Jesus as well, according to the Orthodox view this sets up Jesus as a sort of demigod or a rival to God in authority.

Now this doctrine, the western version of it, was never accepted in the places where Christianity started, in Palestine, Syria, the Middle East in general. It was officially sanctioned five hundred years after Christ as an addition to the Apostle's Creed. Yet there isn't much ambiguity on the subject in Pentacostal doctrine: the Holy Spirit can be commanded by Jesus. You pray to Jesus, confess your sins, and then Jesus sends the Holy Spirit to you to baptize you for the second time. They could have easily made it clear that although you pray to Jesus the agency of the Holy Spirit coming down for baptism is always God himself, but they don't.

The fact that they don't exists because they're descended from the Roman Catholic Church instead of from an Eastern Orthodox Church. Their claim to be a reincarnation of the early Christian Church is thus undermined by the fact that the scheme behind their fundamental doctrine is defined by an accident of history rather than by the Gospels themselves.

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