Friday, 27 August 2010

Ecclesiological Dimensions in the Pentecostalist Practice of the Jesus Prayer

In our post called Pentecostalism and the Jesus Prayer, we made some remarks on the contrast between the operation of the charisms among Orthodox saints and among the Pentecostalists.  We received two comments, which we printed on the post, and exchanged emails with the persons making the comments.  In those comments a variety of issues were raised.
Before we turn to the comments, however, we would like to make a general remark about the study of Pentecostalism, especially in the United States.  We have been reading
This is the PhD dissertation of Mr. Holvast, who is a member of the Evangelical Church and formerly a missionary in Mali.  The dissertation is not hard to read.  It can be downloaded free by clicking on the title above.
‘Spiritual Mapping’ is a practice among certain Pentecostalists first of identifying ‘territorial demons’ that are preventing the spread of the Gospel in a region and then of attacking those demons in power through prayer and even through anointing whole towns with blessed oil.  Names associated with the practice include Ted Haggard, formerly of the New Life Church and now of St James Church, both in Colorado Springs; Reverend Muthee; and Sarah Palin—perhaps indirectly through others who practise a prayer ministry of spiritual warfare.  Also associated with this practice is the notion that what is involved when these ‘territorial demons’ are attacked is not only the spread of the Gospel but also the Christianization of all aspects of society, including government.  This is a doctrine usually known as Dominionism.  There is a great emphasis in this practice on relations of power.
Now Spiritual Mapping does not seem to be what is in play, at least obviously, at the International House of Prayer in Kansas City.  We will see what is in play, at least in part, below.  However, Mr. Horvast’s dissertation has historical information on the various contemporary Pentecostalist currents and their interconnections.  Since American Pentecostalism is a very complex phenomenon, the historical information in the dissertation is illuminating.
Before we begin we also have to discuss a related concept.  This is the restoration of the five-fold ministry to the Church.  This five-fold ministry derives from Ephesians 4, 11 where the five ministries are listed as: apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers.  The Pentecostalists who believe in the restoration of the five-fold ministry literally mean that today God is through his Holy Spirit raising up Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Pastors and Teachers in the Church to prepare the Church for the End Times.  These charismatic ministers of the Church are thought to have divine authority over the Church of Christ.  This is particularly true of the Apostles and Prophets.
We cannot emphasize strongly enough that the doctrine is that just as the Apostle Peter was an Apostle, and the Apostle Paul, so today—not yesterday—there are Apostles in the Church raised up by God.  And these Apostles have authority from God to rule the Church.
Similarly, just as in Acts of the Apostles a prophet named Agabus bound Paul’s hands with his belt before Paul went up to Jerusalem prophesying that the Jews there would bind Paul’s hands in a similar way, so today—not yesterday—there are prophets of equal or perhaps even greater power in the Church of Christ.
Now an obvious question arises: what is the Church that these Apostles and Prophets have divine authority over?  Here we have to understand the ecclesiology[1] that underlies this doctrine.
The ecclesiology involved derives from the Protestant Reformation.  It teaches that the Church is an invisible, spiritual reality that is comprised of all the believers in Christ.  According to this theory the Church is not confined to any one denomination and is certainly not to be identified with either the Orthodox Church or the Roman Catholic Church.  Now we are a little uncertain whether this invisible Church is comprised only of all born-again believers in Christ, or merely of all people who think they believe in Christ even if they do not consider themselves born again.  Perhaps this is a doctrine that varies among the various Protestant groups.  Moreover, it is not at all clear whether Baptism (of whatever kind) is considered to be a criterion for membership in this invisible Church.  Some Evangelical and Pentecostalist groups give primacy not to Baptism but to the born-again experience or even to the Baptism in the Holy Spirit as the criterion for membership in the invisible Church.
The Orthodox Church formally believes that it is the Church instituted by Jesus Christ.  That is different from what these people believe.
The Roman Catholic Church teaches that the true Church founded by Jesus Christ subsists in the Roman Catholic Church, whose head is the Pope.  That is different from what these people believe.
So we have a situation where a number of Pentecostalists believe that God has anointed them Apostles over the whole Church, which is comprised of the totality of all (born-again) believers in Christ, whether these believers recognize the Apostles’ authority or not.
Similarly for Prophets.  Certain prophets believe that they have prophetic authority over the whole Church, whether the Church’s members believe it or not.
That is what we understand to be the substance of the doctrine of the restoration of the five-fold ministry to the Church in these End Times.
It should be obvious from what we have said above that the Pentecostalists, especially those who subscribe to the theory of the restoration of the five-fold ministry, have a completely different theory of the Church than the Orthodox Church does.  Let us suppose that you believe in the restoration of the five-fold ministry.  If you believe that there are Apostles anointed by God walking the earth today who have genuine apostolic authority over the whole Church, how can you believe what the Orthodox Church believes?  For the Orthodox Church believes that that apostolic authority resides in the Orthodox bishops, especially in council.  Your divinely anointed Pentecostalist Apostles are not going to accept the authority of the Orthodox Bishops in council, and the Orthodox bishops in council are not going to accept the authority of your divinely anointed Pentecostalist Apostles.  So the Pentecostalist Apostles and the Orthodox bishops can’t both be right.  Someone has to be wrong.  Otherwise, it’s a matter of a house divided that cannot stand, as Jesus himself teaches in the Gospel.
Moreover, we imagine that the Roman Catholic Church might be surprised to hear that it is under the authority of divinely ordained Apostles who have nothing to do with the Pope.  Of course, the divinely ordained Pentecostalist Apostles don’t believe that the Roman Catholic Church has anything to do with God, so that might explain things.
Let us turn to the first comment, from Mr. Oystein Lid.  (We should point out that we have edited all comments and other material quoted for clarity and style.  The originals of the comments can be found in the original post.  In the case of other material we are quoting after editing, the original material is posted here in a footnote.)
Since I am a convert to orthodoxy from Pentecostalism (charismatic, third wave, Benny Hinn-style, Kenneth Hagin-style; however, not so much International House Of Prayer, Joel's Army, prophetic, Lakeland, Toronto-style) this topic very much interests me. Perhaps particularly what you write regarding the charismatic gifts as acquired after years of ascetic practice vs. the microwave, quick-fix, instant-anointing Pentecostal approach.  But in the years since I converted I have never really heard a good Orthodox exegesis of these key Bible verses which Pentecostals use as a foundation for their "restoration movement":
Mark 16, 17 – 18:
17 And these signs shall follow them that believe.  In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; 18 They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.
In this passage Christ does not appear to limit the gift of healing to the specialists, does he? While the following Old Testament prophecy does not deal with the gift of healing specifically, there does seem to be an indication of a release of charismatic gifts to all, not only to those who lived on vegetables for 30 years.
Joel 2, 28 – 29:
28 And it shall come to pass afterward, [that] I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions.  29 And also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my spirit.
Hence, the name “Joel's Army,”[2] by the way.
Another key passage for us charismatics back in the old days was this passage in John:
John 14, 12 – 14:
12 Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater [works] than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father.  13 And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.  14 If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do [it].
Is it not the case that the Orthodox Church recognizes many lay-saints who also possess(ed) the gift of healing?  An example here in Norway is the king-saint Olav. His vita (taken from the Orthodox Church in Norway's website) says among other things that:
St. Olav was not an ascetic saint [but a layman] who lived a virtuous life in piety and purity. His religiosity needed a long time to mature. ... When he travelled to Russia he let his Christian faith develop. There it became apparent that he possessed the gift of healing the sick, among others the blind son of Ingegjerd, Vladimir.
Another issue of course is that in Christianity great wonders and signs come second to the all-encompassing commandment of love. As Saint Paul reminds us in 1 Cor. 13, 2:
And though I have [the gift of] prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.
I am reminded here of St Silouan’s[3] praise of his father (non-monastic, but an Elder) a family man. "He never got angry, was always even-tempered and humble." "I have never reached my father’s stature" St. Silouan[4] said.
Is it therefore not also possible for laypeople to attain to a likeness to Christ and a higher level of spirituality while living in the world?
Let us look at what Mr. Lid is saying.  Let us look first at his request for exegesis of the prophetic passages about the descent of the Holy Spirit.
In evaluating the interpretation of the Scriptural passages that Mr. Lid brings forward, we have to consider the ecclesiological framework of the person giving the interpretation.  In other words, if you are a devout member of the Orthodox Church, you are going to read those Scriptural passages in the context of the Orthodox Church’s understanding of itself.  If you are a Pentecostalist, you are going to read those Scriptural passages in accordance with your own understanding of the nature of the Church.
And this is the basic issue in the interpretation of those passages.
Let us put it a little more clearly.  The Orthodox Church believes that Scripture belongs to the Orthodox Church.  The Orthodox Church has been on the face of the earth since the time of the first Pentecost 50 days after the Resurrection of Christ.  The Orthodox Church both wrote the New Testament and interprets it, also interpreting the prophecies of the Old Testament.
The signs that Our Lord speaks of in the passage from Matthew inhere in the Orthodox Church, not in individual believers outside the Orthodox Church.
In the second passage the eschatological outpouring of the Holy Spirit prophesied in Joel, for us, refers to the outpouring on Pentecost on the believers in Jesus, which outpouring formed the Orthodox Church.  All Orthodox receive the Holy Spirit in their Baptism and Chrismation.  Their Baptism renews them in Christ.  Their Baptism is the foundation of any spiritual life in Christ until they die.
Now the next Scriptural passage quoted, from the Gospel of John, concerns the greater works that a believer shall do.  The Orthodox Church, as we understand it, considers that this passage is indeed true but that it has to be understood in an Orthodox context.
Moreover, in assessing the significance of this Scriptural passage for the modern-day Pentecostalist movement, one has to balance it with the other passages of the New Testament that speak of false prophets.  Merely doing great works in the name of Christ doesn’t necessarily mean you’re from Godeven if you do greater works than the works done by Christ himself.  Keeping the commandments of Christ and being a member of the Orthodox Church who believes what the Orthodox Church believes means you’re from God.
There are a number of passages of the Gospel that speak of false prophets, especially in the End Times.  The basic criterion for judging whether someone is a false or true prophet is by his fruits.  The same thing for miracle workers.  Are they keeping the commandments of Christ?
Moreover, the Sermon on the Mount is crystal clear.  Many will in the Day of Judgement say to Jesus that they did many mighty prophetic and charismatic works in his name and Jesus will say to them that he never knew them, sending them to Hell.  Jesus then goes on to say that he who builds his life on the commandments of the Gospel will be great in the Kingdom of Heaven, but that he who does not—whether or not he has done great prophetic or charismatic works—will be least in the Kingdom of Heaven.  Nothing could be clearer.
Now the issue arises of the layman and the charismatic gifts in the Orthodox Church.  It is indeed true dogmatically that the charismatic gifts are in no way limited to monks.  What we wanted to do in the original post  was to emphasize the contrast between the rarity and difficulty in the Orthodox Church of finding authentic charismatic gifts, and the ease with which the charismatic gifts are exercised among Pentecostalists.  In this, see below, where we see a living example.
Even in the Sayings of the Desert Fathers, there are passages which indicate that laypeople can exceed monks in sanctity.  Looking at our self, a monk, we can easily see that this is true.  The most famous example of the holy layman is the cobbler in Alexandria who was revealed by God to St. Anthony as exceeding St. Anthony in holiness.  So there is no problem with Saint Olaf.
Now let us turn to the second comment, from Seafra:
I would like to put some input into the discussion if I may.  The International House of Prayer (IHOP) is itself an inter-denominational center.  We have Anglicans, Catholics, Baptists and people from a variety of many other backgrounds.  In the early stages of IHOP there was a leader affiliated with the “latter rain movement” who tried to plant the “sons of God” heresy.  There was much trouble and he left but many people still seem to connect him to the center. Now talking about IHOP can be tricky because it is really only a prayer room.  However, as the IHOP prayer room grew a community church formed. As for our worship, it really does vary.  There is a lot of charismatic and contemporary music but hymns are also done and sometimes instrumental solos.   Now “IHOP” is a very broad label because there are many ministries that have been started by IHOP.  However common to all members of the leadership of IHOP is a belief in the five-fold ministry with the proviso that any believer can be used by God to operate in any situation.  Personally I am here to learn the model as I will be planting houses of prayer in Ireland.  However, I also plan to have more of an Orthodox focus.  I noticed that you have frequently referred to Orthodox monks; however my studies have shown me that all are able to pray the Jesus prayer.  At IHOP there is actually a strong emphasis on contemplative prayer.  In my understanding the Jesus Prayer is Orthodoxy’s primary form of contemplative prayer and since I am considering converting I naturally wanted to learn more about it. There are various books in our library here but they largely focus[5] on the Desert Fathers and the Church mystics from Catholicism so I wanted to obtain more instruction from an Orthodox point of view. That is my primary reason for seeking your help.  I realize that IHOP has a peculiar reputation and I’m in no way trying to defend it.  However, I do believe in IHOP’s mission of night and day prayer and I believe a model can be constructed that would actually make Orthodoxy more noticed in the west.
Now we are going to quote a passage from a second comment from Seafra:
Scripture teaches that every believer can operate in any gift but are for God’s own purpose more prominent in a certain gift. I have prophesied over complete strangers and told them their childhood; I have prayed over a comatose [woman] on her deathbed and saw her dancing two days later, but my primary gift is as an evangelist.[6]
We didn’t print the comment on the original post in accordance with one of Seafra’s emails to us:
Oops, could you ignore my second post.  I am doing this on my phone and misread what the other poster said.  Thanks also for informing me.  I believe you are referring to the Jesus prayer prayed with breath control and all the other techniques, correct?  But isn't there a way that laymen are encouraged to pray?   Also the Greek church I have been attending said the general thought is that if you are baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Spirit you do indeed have the Holy Spirit—but you’re saying otherwise.  Any reason for the contradiction?[7]
First of all, let us point out that Seafra, judging from his photograph, is in his early twenties.  He has already “prophesied over complete strangers and told them their childhood; … prayed over a comatose [woman] on her deathbed and saw her dancing two days later.”  However, his “primary gift is as an evangelist”.  We take this to mean that Seafra has the divinely ordained ministry of Evangelist just like in the Acts of the Apostles, in accordance with the doctrine of the restoration of the five-fold ministry to the Church in the End Times—one of the ministries is Evangelist.
Now, frankly, if Seafra is a divinely anointed Evangelist who does these things, what does he need us for?  We’ve been an Orthodox monk for a long time.  We can’t do any of them. We suspect that Seafra has also raised people from the dead.  Really.  We’re not being sarcastic. He’s just too modest to admit it. 
Here’s the problem.  We have a situation in which a layman in his twenties has got involved with the Pentecostalists and now does miracles.  In the Orthodox Church, as we put it, St Seraphim of Sarov “… spends decades in the wilderness silently praying the Jesus Prayer as a hermit keeping a vow of complete and utter silence and living only on snits, a local weed, before by revelation he returns to the world as a great prophet and miracle worker.”  In the Orthodox Church, even if we suppose that a layman is going to do miracles we should be very surprised if it were without a decades-long period of ascesis of some sort.
Now, our miracle-working Evangelist in his twenties who as far as we can tell has no experience of Orthodox monasticism on the one hand is interested in joining the Orthodox Church and on the other hand wishes to go to Ireland to plant houses of Prayer modelled on the Pentecostalist International House of Prayer, where there are Anglicans, Catholics, Baptists and people from a variety of many other backgrounds living and praying in inter-denominational harmony.  And there, it appears, he wants to teach the Jesus Prayer.
Moreover, he says, “The Greek [Orthodox] church I have been attending said the general thought is that if you are baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Spirit you do indeed have the Holy Spirit.”  So evidently the Orthodox Church has agreed with Seafra that Seafra has the Holy Spirit—so that Seafra must indeed be a miracle-working divinely ordained Evangelist just like it says in the Acts of the Apostles.  Presumably, since it’s the Holy Spirit that’s acting, it would be acceptable to the Orthodox Church once Seafra became a member for Seafra to go to Ireland to establish the inter-denominational Pentecostalist Houses of Prayer that he intends to establish there.  Evidently it would also be acceptable to the Orthodox Church for Seafra to teach the Jesus Prayer in those Houses of Prayer as part of his divinely anointed ministry of Evangelist.
It is in this context that Seafra wishes to learn about Hesychasm.
If Seafra has the Holy Spirit, he doesn’t need Hesychasm.  He needs someone to write his biography for the Lives of the Saints.
Hesychasm is for sinners who want to repent.
St. Diadochos of Photiki gives a very good explanation of the practice of the Jesus Prayer by the baptized Orthodox.  We refer all our readers to our translation and commentary: for the translation go to the archives for August, 2008, and for our commentary go to the archives starting in March, 2009 and ending in May, 2009.[8]
The Jesus Prayer is part of a whole method, called Hesychasm, which orients its practitioner to passing from the initial state of the restoration of the image of God in Baptism to the likeness to God in dispassion.  Baptism does not make a person perfect but restores the image of God in him or her.  After Baptism the Orthodox Christian practices an ascesis usually called Hesychasm until the likeness to God is restored, when by the grace of the merciful God the person is granted perfect love for God and man in an experience of light.  This is the broad path that St. Diadochos is describing.  This path is aimed at monastics, but laymen and laywomen participate in it under the guidance of an Elder to the extent of their abilities.  This path is not necessary for salvation, as St John of Sinai indicates in the Ladder of Divine Ascent.  It is moreover very difficult and only a very few monastics are able to carry it out in its entirety.  There is also another monastic road, of obedience in a coenobitic monastery, which, as St. Athanasios of Athos testifies, is of equal value before God.
The reason that the Orthodox Church expects people—whether laymen or monks—to go through a long period of ascesis is precisely to remove the passions that prevent God from restoring the likeness to God in them.  This period of ascesis is perhaps also necessary to remove from the soul the results of serious sin after baptism.  In this regard it might be useful to read about St. Silouan the Athonite.  Soon after his entry into the Russian Monastery of  St Panteleimon on Mt Athos Silouan had a vision of the risen Christ that was authentic.  He then spent close to twenty years praying the Jesus Prayer in a continuous fight against demons that were physically visible to him.  During this time he was deceived twice by false visions.  Only after this long and terrible ascesis was St. Silouan made perfect.
Now the whole point of Pentecostalism is that none of this is necessary.
So why would a miracle-working Pentecostalist be interested in the Jesus Prayer, in its mild form for laymen?
Part of it seems to be the idea that it should be possible in a Pentecostalist inter-denominational House of Prayer to engage in ‘contemplation’ by means of the Jesus Prayer.  Now, what we think these people understand by ‘contemplation’ is that having been baptized in the Holy Spirit they can engage in a mild form of the Jesus Prayer that keeps them united to the Holy Spirit.  What they are ignoring, however, is the whole apparatus of ascesis that is part and parcel of the practice of the Jesus Prayer—not to mention all the other issues involved.
Nothing good is going to come of this, Seafra.  Leave it alone.
Best wishes—
Orthodox Monk, the sinner who practises the Jesus Prayer

[1] Ecclesiology: the theology of the nature and structure of the Church, i.e. one’s beliefs about the nature and structure of the Church.
[2] Joel’s Army is a Pentecostalist Group associated with the Lakeland Outpouring.  It is noted for Revivals with miracles being worked, often in very striking ways.
[3] After an email correspondence with Mr. Lid, this has been corrected from ‘Elder Paisios’.
[4] See fn. 1.
[5]  It was hard for us to understand this sentence up to here.  This rendering is the best we can do.  See the original comment.
[6] Original Comment in full:  Oysten.... Regarding your comment you must keep in mind protestants don't age on anything some believe add you posted others believe in what I believe scripture teaches that every believer can operate in any gift but are for Gods own purpose more prominent in a certain gift. I have prophesied over complete strangers and told then their childhood, I have prayed over a comatose on her death bed and saw her dancing two days later, but my primary gifting is as an evangelist.
[7] Original text of email:  Oops could you ignore my second post I am doing this on my phone and misread what the other poster said... Thanks also thanks for informing me I believer you are referencing the Jesus prayer prayed with the breath control and all the other disciplined traits correct? but isn't there a way that laymen are encouraged to pray... Also the Greek church I have been attending said the general thought is that if you are baptized on the name of the Father, Son, and Spirit you do indeed have the holy spirit but your saying other wise any reason for the contradiction?

[8] Those who want can find another translation in the Philokalia Vol. I (trans. Palmer, Sherrard and Ware, published by Faber & Faber). 


  1. Well I'm sad to say that I wont be reading your blog anymore. I have enjoyed your sincere inputs but there is too much sarcasm in your postings and you have put way to many words in my mouth to justify credibility with me. I never said i raised a woman from the Dead. she was expected to die. Plus i don't believe scripture teaches that one has to attain to a certain "Holiness" to be used of God King Saul in the midst of his rebellion received the Spirit of the Lord and prophesied. To limit Gods ability to do as He wills is to remove Him from being God. that being said i know you will just criticize what i have said and all the openings i have left in my argument so i will just go. God bless I pray He visits you continually, I genuinely do!

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