Plenary Session 1 with Dr. Chris Thomas - Recovering Our Early Roots
Dr. Chris Thomas (right) with French translator Dominic Kibale. Photos by Leslie Ghag. © 2016 The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada
Dr. Thomas encouraged us as a Fellowship to get back to the core practices and principles of our Pentecostal identity--to recover our early roots. Here are some excerpts of his message.
"I believe that the Pentecostal church has been raised up and in many ways prepared to minister to this generation and the next if the Lord tarries ... We have been church growthed, consulted, and coached to death. We don’t know our identity. We listen to the gurus of the latest trends, and we learn how to 'do' church. It won’t be long before we offer degrees in worship technology. Now don’t mishear me. I’m not suggesting that one size fits all in terms of worship styles, ministry contexts, or how ministry is done.
"[But] the core of Pentecostalism is found in the testimonies of the founding members, right from Azusa Street – the full gospel everywhere, that Jesus is Saviour, Healer, Spirit-baptizer, and soon-coming King.
"It was this unique combination that exploded … it generated the greatest revival the world has ever witnessed. These were not doctrines simply to be affirmed. We encountered Jesus more and more as we pressed further and further in. I want to encourage any of you that are interested, to go to www.pentecostalarchives.org and read them for yourselves. We will find a vitality, a vibrancy, that is often not seen in our contemporary publications. But in many places we suffer from what I would call a theological amnesia—we’ve forgotten who we are.
"There are many reasons for this theological amnesia, but for the most part, it comes from us being pressed into a form, a mould that is different from who we are. Let me take one benign example. We think we need to streamline our worship services. To maintain our clienteles. Or to stay on schedule, as I see a big clock before me. (But fortunately, it has stopped working!) [Laughter] So we eliminate things that we think take too much time, like prayer for the sick, or extended times of prayer around the altar, because not everyone's participating. Because of the disproportionate number of emotionally challenged people around us, we shut down opportunities for testimony and we downplay the importance of spiritual gifts, so we are not embarrassed, and so we do not lose control. And before we know it, no one is being saved, the sick are not being healed, and no one is empowered for witness. There is little mention of the return of Jesus. We do church well, but often the theological heart of our tradition is but a dim memory. It looks quaint, and not a little out of touch. And our children have no idea. I am convinced that the reclamation of our birthright is the key to reclaiming our theological vitality.
"The return of Jesus is the engine that drives the Pentecostal train. It motivates our desire for salvation … to pray for the sick. It is the coming age. It fuels our missionary activity. But it’s the same Jesus that we know as Saviour who is our coming King. It’s the same Jesus that we know as Sanctifier who is our coming King. It is the same Jesus that baptizes us in the Spirit that is our coming King. Our Healer … who is our coming King. It is not the great fear of the church, it is the great hope of the church.
"Women are gifted for ministry. And we know that there are tons of texts that affirm women in ministry. Apostles, prophets, teachers. So just like the Jews in Acts 15, who could have gone to an exclusive text, that kept the Gentiles out of the people of God, as Pentecostals, we cannot allow silence texts to override the vast preponderance of texts that talk about women in ministry, a word that the Spirit has testified to us.
"[We can sort out many issues through the texts.] How to sort out issues of the civil government. You not only have Romans that talks about submission. It can help us discern our way through issues of divorce. There are all kinds of texts that we have to sort our way through. I believe that Pentecostals have a distinctive view of Scriptures because of our understanding of the gifts of the Spirit.
"We are called to do our work in the Spirit. In revelation, all the faithful witnesses die. In the West we are more concerned with our rights than with our witness. What if it took 20,000 martyrs to will over all people from Islam?"
Dr. Thomas encouraged us to remember our responsibility to the poor, the sick, the disenfranchised among us ... in our congregations, in our communities. Everyone should find a place in the family of God.