Pope Francis has sent a personal video message to a Pentecostal conference.
With all the warmth and candour we’ve come to expect from the Holy Father, he asked Christians to pray for unity — and it was just beautiful. Please take a moment to watch it! (Even my agnostic dad was very impressed — and watched almost the whole thing!)
There are significant and serious differences between Catholics and Pentecostals.
But what Francis reminds us of is this: we must look for the good and seek common ground. In the process, we don’t just learn more about another Christian tradition, we learn more about our own.
When I told my friends I was becoming Catholic, I was surprised to see a clear trend. The more charismatic they were, the more readily they accepted and even supported my decision. In contrast, the more ostensibly High Church Anglican or Confessionally Protestant, the more concerned they were.
At first, this seemed odd. I mean, the confessional side of Protestantism emphasised ecclesial authority, the sacraments, the Church Fathers. They even liked wearing vestments and going to Vespers! (Can’t get more Catholic than that!)
Catholics and Pentecostals, however, have a lot in common. (Aside from, you know, the most precious thing of all: gospel of Jesus Christ!) Indeed, I think the underlying logic of Pentecostalism is, in some ways, more in tune with Catholicism than Confessional Protestantism is.
I don’t pretend to be an expert on Pentecostalism by any means. At the urging of Pope Francis, though, I want to see more of how we are brothers and sisters, united in one faith.
Both Pentecostals and Catholics see the Holy Spirit speaking authoritatively outside of the Scriptures.
In the Catholic Church, the Spirit governs the Church through the Bible, through the Apostolic Tradition, and through the authority of the bishops of the Church. In a similar-ish way, Pentecostals believe that the Holy Spirit speaks authoritatively in modern-day prophecy.
This obviously varies among Pentecostals. It is notable, however, that the two groups of Christians you will hear most discussion about the apostles, and a sense of being connected to the apostles, is Pentecostalism and Catholicism. Both have some sense of a continuation of the apostolic office, something largely absent from Confessional Protestantism. While the latter is strictly sola scriptura, the former understand that God has and will continue to speak through human beings, and not just a book.
Both Pentecostals and Catholics express their faith in a thoroughly embodied way.
I’ve often thought there is something deeply alike in the Pentecostal worship service, with its hand raising and shouts of joy, and Catholic popular piety, with its hand waving and shouts of joy. For starters, neither are particularly well-behaved!
Indeed, I think the reason Catholicism has lost so much ground to Pentecostalism is that we’re tried to make it too respectable and, for want of a better word, middle class. Sometimes I think we don’t need more teaching, we need more mind-bogglingly miracles, more crazy processions, more emotionally-charged pilgrimages. If people don’t respond, WHAT THE HECK ARE YOU CRAZY PEOPLE DOING!? I think we’re doing it wrong…
Both Pentecostals and Catholics witness all sorts of miracles.
For example, did you know that St Francis Xavier (1506 – 1552) the great evangelists of India, China and Japan spoke in tongues? The lives of the saints — and ordinary Catholics — are full of accounts of words of faith, prophecies, and visions. Indeed, you know miracles are alive and well in the Catholic Church otherwise we wouldn’t have any saints — to be made a saint, you have to have at least two miracles linked to your intercession.
Another example is healing. We tend to think of “faith healing” as a distinctly Pentecostal thing but it really isn’t. Catholics have the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick or Extreme Unction. Some people think that it is just the Last Rites but it’s not. If the recipient is open to grace, then the sacrament heals the soul — and if it is God’s will, the body too.
In a way, both healings carry on the apostolic tradition mentioned by St James.
Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. (James 5:14)
As I said, there are still big differences between Catholics and Pentecostals. We can, however, learn from each other and more importantly, we can learn to love each other.
Perhaps Pentecostals will discover there is a massive history of Spirit-wrought works and miracles in the Church. Perhaps Catholics will see again how, for all our structures of authority, ours is a deeply pentecostal Church — a Church born at Pentecost, filled with the Spirit, descended from the Apostles, and performing wonders that the world would see and believe.
Far more, I pray that both Catholics and Pentecostals will “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” For “there is one body and one Spirit… one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:3-6)
Whatever else, we can rejoice that we have Him in common.