“Coming to the table has allowed me to hear stories of genuine faith in Christ, many of them set amid great suffering.”
Most followers of Jesus Christ have a faith community they are connected to. That connectedness brings many benefits, including a shared sense of belonging, common beliefs and practices, and a history that links their story to their faith community. It is a great thing to belong!
However, when all we know is the viewpoint exclusive to our own faith community, we can easily become arrogant, dismissive and judgmental of other church families. At the very least, it creates a myopic point of view and unhealthy naiveté. As a result, relationships that could provide vibrancy and life to one’s faith journey never have a chance to develop.
I consider it a great privilege to be able to represent our Pentecostal community to the wider Christian community in Canada and around the world. Here are some things I have gained from “coming to the table” with the global Christian community.
As a starting point, I have gained a deep confidence in the truth of the Apostles’ Creed that is shared by millions of believers around the world. I have also grown more confident in the core tenets of Pentecostal and evangelical belief and practice. Brian Stiller, global ambassador for the World Evangelical Alliance and a member of our PAOC family, refers to the definition of “evangelical” in his recent article entitled “To Be or Not to Be an Evangelical”:
“A helpful way to understand Evangelical is to follow David Bebbington’s definition with one addition: 1) the Scriptures as our ultimate authority; 2) the crucifixion as our only means for atonement of sin; 3) the importance of personal conversion; 4) activism – being a witness of Christ to our neighbors and society; 5) trusting in the empowering work of the Holy Spirit.”1
Stiller’s addition of number five speaks to the “Pentecostalization” of the global church. As a Pentecostal, my interaction with the broader Christian community has reinforced the crucial importance of Jesus’ teachings regarding the person of the Spirit.
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,” Jesus declared in the synagogue in Nazareth, “because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free …” (Luke 4:18). Jesus’ intimate relationship with the Father was evidenced by the empowering companionship of the Spirit. Jesus invited His followers to experience this intimate relationship as well. “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—the Spirit of truth”(John 14:16,17a). “I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:49). “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
The Book of Acts tells the story of the Spirit’s power in the early church as the believers bore witness of Jesus and carried on His works. The Spirit’s empowerment was not an option for the early church; it was an essential component of living out the life of Jesus. As it was for Jesus, so it was in their lives. They understood and followed Jesus’ example of intimacy with the Father and dependence on the Spirit. And as it was for them, so it is for us. As Peter declared in Acts 2:39,“The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”
So here is a paradox: by not confining myself to one way of seeing things, I have experienced a solidifying of the core tenets of Pentecostalism and evangelicalism. Being confident in those convictions, I am free to come to the table of the broader Christian community and value the life and truth of Christ in the people I meet there. It’s a veritable feast!
I have feasted at the table with friends such as Steve, an ordained Roman Catholic deacon. Steve models a sacrificial, earthy, servant-hearted faith in Christ that broadens my understanding of Jesus and of the Catholic community.
My dear friend, Larry Miller, past secretary of the Global Christian Forum, served those of us at that table for seven crucial years. He showed us that when we put others ahead of ourselves and ensure they are listened to and heard, we are all better for it. His forbearance reflected that of our Lord.
Coming to the table has allowed me to hear stories of genuine faith in Christ, many of them set amid great suffering. My knowledge, awareness and love for the broader body of Christ have grown deep. What a tragedy it would be if I had remained in my ecclesiastical cave of fixed identity and never ventured out to feast at the table of the Lord.
Psalm 133 tells us that God “bestows his blessing” on His people when they “live together in unity.” Jesus indicated that the unity of His disciples would enhance their witness (John 17:20, 21). Today in Canada, denominational and ministry leaders from Pentecostal, charismatic and evangelically aligned communities are coming to the table. They are envisioning and participating in shared witness, service and faith development. There is a tangible sense of anticipation that God is prepared to bestow His blessing. It is a new season!
Lord, we are grateful for all we have known in our walk with You. We humble ourselves and acknowledge that there is so much more for us to learn. Teach us from Your Word and by Your Spirit as we come to the family table, so that together we might experience life forevermore. Amen.
1. Brian Stiller, “To Be or Not to Be an Evangelical,” The Exchange[blog by Ed Stetzer], Christianity Today, March 31, 2018, accessed May 25, 2018, https://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2018/march/to-be-or-not-to-be-evangelical.html.
This article appeared in the July/August 2018 issue of testimony, the bimonthly publication of The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada.