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A lost ecumenical vision?

Pentecostalism and «the spirit of unity, love and reconciliation»

Thank you for the invitation to participate in this historic symposium. Historic because this is the first time an academic seminar of this character has been held in the context of the Norwegian Pentecostal movement. This could not have happened without the developments that we have had with education at the university level and the research that is now going on in the field of Pentecostalism in the Nordic countries.
I am quite excited about this, and I find myself asking: Is this one of the tools God will use to raise Pentecostal Christianity at our latitude to «the next level»? I believe so, but on certain conditions. There have to be studies and research that keep a high standard and which have close ties to the reality we are faced with; we must be willing to learn from others, but also be a theological corrective and dare to be alternative. We must be capable of raising critical – but constructive – questions about our own fellowship. We must listen to what «the Spirit says to the church». Then, we can begin to write…
The Bible says: «Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever», Hebrews 13, 7-8.

Barratt and his «passion for the Kingdom»
I wonder: Is it possible to open clogged springs? Is it true that the oldest is the newest – for that was the beginning – afterward everything is just older? Was that why Thomas Ball Barratt did not say: Back to -, but onward to primitive Christianity? To live radically is to be challenged by some fundamental roots, some role models, and some visions that were, but maybe later, were forgotten. What can we learn from our pioneers here on Norwegian soil?
I have been asked to present the man who was the strongest role model of them all, and who came to influence Norwegian and European Pentecostalism for 35 years, Thomas Ball Barratt. He was not even Norwegian - he came from England - but he loved Norway more than the majority of Norwegians did. I cannot think of a pioneer who to such a great degree realized the title of Steven Land’s book: Barratt himself was in fact the personification of Pentecostal Spirituality, a passion for the Kingdom.
[1] In him was the flame that makes Pentecostals into a People of the Spirit; humble, trembling and dancing before the face of God. My approach is to concentrate on the first 10 years after Barratt had his existential experience of the Holy Spirit. 10 years marked by a spesific searching for unity, love and reconciliation.
T. B. Barratt was greatly gifted, all-sided, and his whole life was really a big story about love. He loved his God, his family, his fellow believers, and he loved those he wanted to win for God. There was something about him that made him different, and he was without a doubt ahead of his time – at least until resistance begun to limit his ministry. The time after 1916 follows a more traditional path and was to some degree the result of his dreams not being fulfilled as he wished. This was a melancholy tone in his otherwise happy melody of life.

«Cross-cultural revivalist»
Barratt’s most important characteristic as Methodist pastor before 1906 was his ability to be a «cross-cultural revivalist», even though he was otherwise grounded in a classical pietistic tradition. He had a very clear focus, but he was also culturally open and friendly. He was known for his amazing Magica Laterna – an ultra-modern slide projector that Norway had barely ever seen before. He was involved in local politics in the capital and he was a driving force in the ecumenical alliance work between church lines in the city, and in many different diaconal projects. His ambitious’ plans on building Håkonsborgen (castle of Håkon) should house both a library and a café, reading rooms and meeting rooms. Here, awakenings were to take place as well as cultural activities. He wanted to enlighten the people and invite them to salvation. He offered gymnastics groups for young people and he worked for the unemployed. He held his meetings at entertainment spots in town, and he could finish his lectures by playing Friedrich Chopin… He was a man that surpassed every boundary.

1906-1916: The pre-constitutional and pneumatological phase
The time between 1906 and 1916 was especially foundational for what we can call the Pentecostal movement’s pre-constitutional phase. This period had the function of establishing identity. The Pentecostal movement was - and perhaps still is - an unstructured revival with greatly differing roots. It’s probably well known that Barratt and the other Pentecostal leaders at that time were not concerned with the establishment of a new church, actually quite the contrary. Both nationally and internationally the pioneers had their confessional identities connected to other churches. Barratt was Methodist, Pethrus Baptist, Jonathan Paul in Germany a Lutheran minister, and Alexander Boddy was - and remained - an Anglican vicar. The primary focus was Pneumatology - not ecclesiology. Not yet!
In the following, I will sum up some of the most central positions, insights, motives and challenges that characterized the first Pentecostals from this period, especially in the writings and ministry of T. B. Barratt. How did they understand themselves in the connection to a broader Christian context? Where they inclusive or exclusive? What were the distinctive marks of that period? There are some attitudes that dominated the writings of Barratt in this period. And these perspectives deserve more attention, as I consider.

Central theological insights, motives and concerns
First of all: Barratt and his «Pentecost belongs to everyone»: The theological insight that came to be dominant the first few years, presented by Barratt’s editorial pen and repeated in the slogan for this week, was that the experience of Pentecost belongs to all who believe in Christ.[2] Therefore, Spirit baptism can be a universal, corporate, Christian experience. The young Pentecostal revival both in Scandinavia, England and Germany was quick to point out that Pentecostals should not imagine themselves having a «right of ownership». The Spirit belongs to everyone because it is God’s Holy Spirit that reveals. The theological program of the Pentecostal revival is summed up in an editorial article, written by Barratt in Byposten in 1911:
«The Pentecostal movement does not come in the form of an organization, but as a spiritual stream of life, pressing into, if possible, all congregations with a message of blessing from God…The Pentecostal movement is not bound to sectarianism. It has a message for our time, a message of salvation from sin, fullness of the Spirit and life in God, a spirit of brotherhood and mercy towards those who are suffering and oppressed, reconciliation between the warriors on the church walls, and victory for the Gospel of Christ. It is God’s answer to modern theology and the rationalism of our time. Therefore, it is also hated and persecuted, but it cannot be stopped, for it is preparing the way for Christ’s second coming…»
[3] This is a real programmatic statement!
The Dutch pioneer, Gerit Polman, said something similar: «The purpose of the Pentecostal movement is not to build a denomination, but to build every denomination».

There is reason to believe that Barratt positioned himself as he did because he wanted to use all his time to proclaim that the baptism of the spirit and the equipment of power that the primitive church represented, according to him was the answer to the challenges that all of Christianity faced; a lack of interest in winning souls and mission,
influence from liberal theology and rationalism, together with «hardening church forms» that did not give enough room for the works of the Spirit.
These trans-confessional characters of Pentecostal experiences the first 10 years had also been stimulated by reports from the ongoing awakening in Los Angeles. Barratt was touched by the multinational, racially and gender neutral ideals of unity from Azusa Street. Thus they were a call to the whole Christianity to stand together in unity, love and reconciliation.

The idea that spirit baptism was addressed to the entire church made it necessary for Barratt to warn against what he described as «the partisan’s spirit»; critique and judgment of other churches and their theological doctrine. He believed that stubborn attitudes and negative descriptions by others hindered the message of Pentecost to reach other churches. Should work at unification succeed, something had to be done with the negative attitudes that dominated the minds of so many Christians. «A friendlier attitude should be a natural fruit of the spirit that was given on Pentecost», Barratt said with emphasis.

the battle against partisanism

But my research materials show, however, that the battle against partisanism was a battle that Barratt lost, not only in popular opinion but also partially in his own ministry as a Pentecostal leader. There was a clear change in tone around 1915. And the year after the theological guidance no longer had the same room for the idea that the Pentecostal experience was a call to unity and reconciliation across confessional lines. That’s why the Norwegian Pentecostal historian, Martin Ski, in his biography of Barratt, points out that it must have seemed quite strange for many that the man who, at the start of the century, had spoken so warmly of Christian unity and interdenominational alliance, became more and more isolated, [7] The ecumenical prophetic voice of the first Pentecostals passed away after 1916, even though it perhaps would have been possible to do both.

Primitive Christian ideals and «Apostolic Christianity»
Secondly: Barratt and the restoration of primitive Christian ideals: With expressions such as: «Pentecost is here again»
[8] the revival articulated a spesific concern for its place and task: God’s goal with this awakening is the restoration of the Christianity of the New Testament. This prophetic restoration called the churches back to lost primitive Christian ideals especially. Thus, in fact it had to do with the whole church. Barratt wrote: «The Pentecostal awakening has a living desire to reach the spirit, mindset and practice of primitive Christianity.» [9]
This daring vision to restore the charismatic dimension that characterized the primitive church both in forms, expressions and structure was a central concern in the theological program in Byposten/Korsets Seier
[10] and the main theme in the many conferences that were arranged in this period around in Europe. In my opinion this perspective represented the most important theological contribution that the Pentecostal leaders gave to other theological milieu.[11]

This was connected to the understanding of the role of Scripture as a normative guide for every ecclesiological structure and praxis. In addition, the Pentecostals’ epistemology was set in a biblicistic, pietistic tradition where the goal was to attempt to present normative and empirical evidence for the truth, doctrine and experiences of Christianity. Thus, a combination of empiricism and biblicism took place: Praxis was to have a scriptural basis and the view of the scriptures was to be experienced. This hindered the Pentecostal movement from ending up as either a fanatical sect or a fundamentalist confessional ghetto.
[12] Barratt himself was the foremost leader in this battle for «apostolic Christianity».
Well; there could be a great deal of exclusive rhetorical power in terms such as «we have the apostolic Christianity» and «Congregational life of the New Testament». Of course it gave new congregations theological validity, at the same time as it marked a divide between «us» and «them». This stimulated the tendencies of Christian triumphalism which stood in a tradition that placed the Pentecostal movement at the top of a rising movement of continuously greater theological revelation.
[13] Not unexpected Lewi Pethrus often said that «Fanaticism has followed the Pentecostals as a shadow». The movement has to be careful!

Alliance Work - despite doctrinal disagreement
Thirdly, Barratt and the alliance work – despite doctrinal disagreement: During this period of time, Barratt made serious efforts to realize what I call his «Pentecostal-ecumenical» ideals. His strategy was to seek unity and cooperation with as many churches as possible through many different forms of alliance work that stimulated awakening and mission; regardless of the dogmatic positions that otherwise prevailed.
All the way until the autumn of 1913 the idea lived on that one could be a Pentecostal and still belong to any Christian church as well. This was the background for the recommendation of an «alliance of brotherly love and tolerance».
The first pioneers were in many ways advocates of that which characterizes modern ecumenism to day when it is described in contrasting categories such as for example the phrase «unity in diversity». This is related again to the term «diversities of the Spirit» - the Pneumatological expression for that fact that while gifts, ministries and ecclesiological structures can be different, the Spirit is still the same; that reconciles Christ’s body to one (1 Chr. 12, 4-6; 12-31). Within organized ecumenism today, well founded disagreements are not valid arguments for hindering inter-confessional dialog, and Christian unity is not to promote uniformity. This does not affect the idea that the world-wide church can appear «with one accord» (cf. Acts 2,1) with a clear Trinitarian confession in society of Christ as Lord and Savior.
In 1910 Barratt thought like this but at the same time differently: From his opinion central concerns of Christian doctrine - such as baptism in water and communion - were not to be displayed publicly or to be the object of debate. Everything that did not lead people to repentance and salvation was to be toned down instead of being topics of serious theological reflections. Thus, the foundational doctrines of the Christian faith were in praxis to a great degree un-dogmatized and privatized.
In his alliance model he attempted to establish an unofficial, alternative structure for cooperation that could run parallel with the established church structure. He could imagine the possibility of Pentecostal experiences melting Christians together – not as churches – but as fellowship. A cross-confessional Pentecostal union would cause spiritual renewal in the churches without denominations and local congregations as such being weakened or split. This, Barratt said, should secure both the unity of the church and the need for spiritual renewal in the churches.
But his alliance-project failed because it was impossible to maintain a line that made Barratt an advocate for a theological degrading of baptism and communion. He was not a theological relativist and his co-workers where definitive not neutral in dogmatic questions. And for the second: when the pioneers, of necessity, had to take greater responsibility for those who had been refugees in the old churches because of their spiritual experiences, the bottom fell out of the alliance model.
And after Barratt, along with his wife, was baptized in Stockholm in the autumn of 1913, the Pentecostal movement in Norway was seen as a Baptist-oriented and congregational movement within a relatively clearly articulated dogmatic framework. This meant that baptism and communion could no longer be parked on the doctrinal sideline.
And instead of alliance and collaboration we got decades after decades with distrust and negative descriptions of one another’s doctrinal positions.

Unity in Christ and love for all brothers
Fourthly and finally: Barratt and the inner Unity in Christ and love for all brothers and sisters in the faith: Both as a Methodist leader and as the leader of the dawning Pentecostal awakening, the theme «Christian unity» became a central concern for Barratt, not the least in his opinion forming work as a writer. He formulated a beautiful prayer for unity: «Dear Lord Jesus, may your prayer as the high priest be fulfilled in us all, So that we can stand together as a powerful front of unity against sin and the world, And thus honor your name and reveal your glory. Amen!»
This was a consequence of the other theological insights the first years among the leaders of the Pentecostal revival. Their talks about unity were definitely not a part of «church-political tactic». In the winter of 1907, Byposten wrote: «The power of Pentecost melts all hearts together in brotherly agreement and shows us that we are one in Christ». [16] The «particular characteristic» of the awakening, Barratt said, was to «join hearts that long had been divided and make Christ the center». [17] Barratt believed at this time that the most important goal of the Pentecostal awakening was to contribute to fulfill Jesus’ prayer that his disciples should be one, since all were baptized to be one body (1 Chr. 12, 13). Unity in the Spirit is «one of the wonders of grace during this awakening», felt Barratt, while using an «inclusive love language» influenced by reconciliation and sympathy. Spirit baptism is always «a baptism in love», he said.[18] And behind we can hear the voice of Seymour: «There is a very sweet spirit of unity…» [19]
But after 1916, the idea of unity was oriented around ecclesiology and conditioned of a corporal theological understanding, not the least when it came to baptism and congregational order. Unity in Christ became unity in faith and dogma. «Only those who agree are one», Barratt said later in his life. [20]

Some concluding remarks and summary:
Martin Ski correctly writes that «Barratt brought the thought of the personal experience of the Spirit into our communal evangelical faith. His main idea was to create a Spirit-filled individual, regardless of denomination and religious collectivism of earlier times. A new Pentecost dawned for the individual. And these Spirit-filled individual belongs now everywhere and nowhere. T. B. Barratt was, in 1907, back in the center of the Biblical apostolate. And precisely here lies his actual, apostolic task; not that he was the founder of the Pentecostal movement».
Well: It is now our job to reflect upon these visions that were such a part of the Pentecostal awakening the first 10 foundational years. Much of the deeper understanding of each other’s faith traditions in our days and a stronger desire to cooperate in the spreading of the Kingdom of God, lived in our Pentecostal pioneers as radical visions. And in a great degree Barratt was one of them. Perhaps we can be part of the fulfillment!

Thank you for your attention.

Land, Steven J. (1993): Pentecostal spirituality: a passion for the Kingdom Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press.
[2] Korsets Seier (KS) 1/11 1910: 1.
[3] KS 15/10 1911: 156.
[4] Gerit R. Polman (1868-1932). Dutch pentecostal leader. De Spade Regen (1908-31) juni 1919: 37.
[5] Byposten (BP) 12/1 1907:2.
[6] Prayer by Thomas Ball Barratt (1862-1940), published in Barratts memory book 3/1950: 244.
[7] Ski, M. (1979). T. B. Barratt, døpt i Ånd og Ild. Oslo: Filadelfiaforlaget AS: 205/218.
[8] BP 6/10 1906: 86.
[9] Barratt, T. B. (1949). «Urkristendommen gjenopplivet». I: I sildigregnets dager: T. B. Barratts minneutgave nr 2, Oslo: Filadelfiaforlaget: 231-232.
[10] In an editorial, the newspaper says that Byposten shall present that «The gifts of the Spirit (1 Chr 12) are just as much for our time as for the apostolic» (KS 1/1 1910: 1).
[11] A selection of citations from the period 1906-1910 show how comprehensive this argumentation was: BP 1906: 6/10: 86; 20/10: 1; 3/11: 95; 17/11: 47; 1/12: 103; 22/12: 106. BP 1907: 12/1: 3; 6: 9/2: 17; 18; 23/3: 34; 20/4: 1.
[12] See also Bloch-Hoell 1956: Bloch-Hoell, N. (1956). Pinsebevegelsen: En undersøkelse av pinsebevegelsens tilblivelse, utvikling og særpreg med særleg henblikk på bevegelsens utforming i Norge. Oslo: Universitetsforlaget: 19/298.
[13] KS 1/8 1931: 7.
[14] KS 15/7 1913: 106. For the opposite position: see KS 1/3 1913: 43.
[15] Prayer by Thomas Ball Barratt (1862-1940), published in Barratts memory book 3/1950: 244.
[16] BP 9/3 1907: 30.
[17] Barratt, T. B. (1949 b). «De kristnes enhet» s. 65-86. I: Fra brytningsårene: T. B. Barratts minneutgave nr 1, Oslo: Filadelfiaforlaget: 141.
[18] BP 6/4 1907.
[19] William Seymour was the leader in the revival in Azusa Street in Los Angeles i between 1906 and 1909, Apostolic Faith 1/5 jan 1907: 1.
[20] Barratt 1941: 214-215.
[21] Ski 1979: 12.

Lecture - Pentecostal Theological Symposium, September 19th 2007, Filadelfia, Oslo. Subject: «What can we learn from the Pentecostal Pioneers – a Norwegian prospective?»