Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Pentecostalism and the Jesus Prayer

In our post entitled ‘A Charismatic Question by Email’, we briefly discussed a request from a member of the ‘International House of Prayer – Kansas City’ for information on the Jesus Prayer. We didn’t give a very detailed response and we were harshly taxed in the comments by ‘drinklife’ for being bad. At one point we stated that there are serious issues with taking up the Jesus Prayer outside the Orthodox Church and ‘drinklife’ mocked us, asking whether that was also true of prayer to the Trinitarian God. Given this matter and the matter addressed in the previous post, where we are dismissed by an Eastern-Rite Catholic as a recent convert from Protestantism to Orthodoxy, and where a distinction is made between the Jesus Prayer suitable for Ruthenian Catholics and the yoga-like Hesychasm practised in the Orthodox Church, it seemed good to us to address some of these issues more fully. This is a rather difficult post since we have discussed some of the issues in the previous post and since, regrettably, some of the issues demand a greater level of intellectual and theological sophistication from our readers than either the Ruthenian Catholics or the Pentecostalist who are our interlocutors seem capable of mustering. We would recommend that this post be read after the previous post.
The Pentecostalism practised at the ‘International House of Prayer – Kansas City’ appears to be associated with the movement to restore the five-fold ministry of apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor and teacher in the Church in accordance with Ephesians 4, 11. This in turn appears to be associated with the doctrine of Dominionism, which intends to implement the physical dominion of the Church over the world. This appears to be what the Reverend Muthee believes who prayed over Sarah Palin, for those who are interested. Now the particular emphasis of this particular group in Kansas City seems to be the prophetic ministry. They also seem to have some connection to the ‘Toronto Blessing’ but, frankly, the interrelationships among all these currents of Pentecostalism are so complex that we are positive we don’t have it down pat. So if we’ve made a mistake, sorry.
Let us first assume for the sake of argument that this expression of Pentecostalism is a valid expression of the Holy Spirit. Let us talk about the practical issues in praying the Jesus Prayer in such a Pentecostalist setting. The member of this group who originally approached us by email states that he participates in the universal prayer ministry at the Church 40 hours a week. By comparison, a monk in a large monastery on Mount Athos is in church 50 hours a week. We are not suggesting that 50 is better than 40; we are merely trying to place the 40 hours a week of corporate Pentecostalist prayer in context.
Let us look a little at the differences in way of life between the Orthodox monastery and the Pentecostalist group. First of all, in church Orthodox monks normally sing a capella (without musical accompaniment). They sing (if they’re Greek) using very old Byzantine plain chant, which is very calming and deepening. For those who don’t know, this is similar to Western Gregorian chant, which is even more tranquilizing in its effects. They are each assigned a personal choir stall where they sit and stand, listening to the services. As we ourselves can attest, such a 50-hour-a-week program of church services has a very calming and deepening and focusing effect. Moreover, the Orthodox Church has a very complex and full annual liturgical cycle which engages the monk or nun psychologically so that over the annual liturgical cycle psychologically they daily relive and participate in the events of the life of Christ and of the lives of the saints. This gives a profound focus to their worship and spiritual lives in general.
In contrast, at a Pentecostalist service, there is the use of a harmonium, sometimes a rock band, sometimes very loud and heavy. This is not a calming experience—it is more deafening. It tends to promote ecstatic worship rather than the calm reflective worship of the Orthodox monk. Obviously, there is no liturgical cycle in the Pentecostalist Church outside of Christmas and Easter.
Next, outside of the church services, the Orthodox monk engages in about 4 or 5 hours a day of manual labour except Sundays and feast days. This helps him to be psychologically grounded in reality. It is not clear what the original questioner does apart from his 40 hours in church; he does not say. We can only ask whether he has something similar in his program.
Next, Orthodox monks normally do not eat meat. They follow an established complex pattern of fasting directly linked to the liturgical calendar. This might seem trivial to those who have not lived the life of the Orthodox monk but we attest that it has a profound effect on the passions—the emotional tendencies to sin—that every person has. It is, again, a calming factor in the monk’s life. The Pentecostalist would have no similar tradition that he could fall back on; his fasting would be ad hoc according to his own discernment and the discernment of his pastor.
The next thing is that the monk is inserted into a monastic tradition that has over the centuries learned about obedience and how it is applied. Here, one might consult the Ladder of Divine Ascent of St John of Sinai, which is a good introduction to the Orthodox monastic life. The monk is also celibate. He is normally living apart from the world with its distractions and temptations.
The monk also participates in the mysterial (sacramental) life of the Church. Confession is very important in this life since it allows the monk to verbalize his interior life with the effect that some problems such as persistent intrusive thoughts disappear, other problems are identified early, and so on. The monk is also nourished by Christ in Holy Communion. There is no such dimension among the Pentecostalists.
Now it is in this context that the Orthodox monk first encounters the Jesus Prayer (we are simplifying). He normally starts off by praying for several hours a day in his cell outside of the cycle of church services and apart from his obligations to manual labour. The Jesus Prayer is presented to the beginning monk as an aspect of a Hesychastic tradition that goes back to the desert of 4th Century Egypt. That Hesychastic tradition is a tradition of mental ascesis, an ascesis of combating intrusive thoughts that call one to sin. Now the Hesychastic tradition is practised in its full form by hermits, and not many of them. In its full form it is both difficult and dangerous. But the monk is conscious that he is inserted into this Hesychastic tradition even if he isn’t ‘playing in the major leagues’.
Normally, the monk also has a guide who assesses the spiritual experiences he has—whether they are from God or from his own psychology or from the Devil. As we have seen in our sweet short life, you can get into big trouble believing something is from God when it isn’t. It’s dangerous and the downside risk is considerable.
Let us now look at what the Pentecostalist has in this regard. The only thing he has, since we are assuming for the sake of argument that he has the Holy Spirit, is someone to discern his experiences for him. For the rest, he’s just not living a way of life consistent with what the Hesychastic tradition anticipates. Given that the original poster is praying 40 hours a week in the church in the church’s prayer ministry, we assume both that he is zealous for prayer and that he would like to pray the Jesus Prayer in the context of that prayer ministry. That is, we assume that he wants to pray the Jesus Prayer not alone in his room, wherever that might be, but in the midst of the corporate charismatic prayer in the prayer ministry room. We are therefore assuming that his interest is not in praying the Jesus Prayer 40 minutes a day, say, but in praying it several hours each day in the context of his 40 hours a week of corporate Pentecostalist prayer. In other words, we understand that he intends to make intensive use of the Jesus Prayer.
As we have pointed out, the full Hesychastic tradition is both difficult and dangerous in the Orthodox monastic context. What would happen in the completely different Pentecostalist context, we wonder. We just cannot take responsibility for what will happen with the practice of the Jesus Prayer in such a Pentecostalist context. The psychological conditions are too different from what obtains in an Orthodox monastery for us to encourage this. The Jesus Prayer demands calm and inner attention since ultimately the person will bring his mind down into his heart, there to pray the Jesus Prayer and there to combat the intrusive thoughts that call him to sin. The very fact that to a Pentecostalist such a practice of bringing the mind into the heart to pray the Jesus Prayer and combat intrusive thoughts is at best meaningless and at worst deceived is an indication that nothing good is going to come of mixing the Jesus Prayer with Pentecostalism.
Now let us release our assumption that Pentecostalists have the Holy Spirit. We are not prophets with the gift of the discernment of spirits. However, we do know that Elders in the Orthodox Church have never accepted Pentecostalism as being an authentic expression of the Holy Spirit. Hence, there is an even more fundamental problem. To give an indication of the dimensions of the problem, St John of Sinai remarks in the Ladder that the gifts of the Holy Spirit such as healing are reserved for monks since otherwise no one would have to become a monk. But that is precisely what the Pentecostalists believe—that lay people have those gifts. In the Orthodox Church, a 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. The Pentecostalists have it easy. Someone goes to a ‘Toronto Blessing’ revival and bam! they’re a prophet. Once they stop laughing. Take it from there. The rest is left as an exercise for the reader.
Update September 2, 2010:  We continue the discussion, looking at the two comments below, in this post.


  1. Being a convert to orthodoxy from Pentecostalism (charismatic, third wave, Benny Hinn-style, Kenneth Hagin-style, but not so much IHOP, Joel's army, prophetic, Lakeland, Toronto-style) this topic very much interest 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 these years since I converted I have never really heard a good orthodox exegesis on these key Bible verses which Pentecostals use as a foundation for their "restoration movement":

    Mark 16:17f
    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 nor 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 2:28f
    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, by the way. Another key passage for us charismatics back in the day 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 recognize plenty of layman-saints who also possess(ed) the gift of healing? An example here in Norway is the king-saint Olav. His vitae (taken from the orthodox church in Norway's website) says among other things that: "St. Olav was not an ascetic saint who lived a virtuous life in piety and purity. His religiosity needed a long time to mature. (...) When he traveled 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 cource 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 elder Paisios 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" elder Paisios said. Is it therefore not also possible for laypeople to attain to Christlikeness and a higher level of spirituality while living in the world?

  2. I would like to put some input if I may IHOP itself is an interdenominational center we have anglicans catholics baptists and many other various backgrounds. In its early stage there was a leader affiliated with the "later 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 simply it is only a prayer room but as it grew a community church formed. As for out worship it really does vary there is alot of charismatic and contemporary music but also hymns are done and sometimes instrumental solos. Now IHOP is an even more broad label as there are many ministries started by IHOP. Common thought among leadership however is belief in five gold ministry but that every believer can be used of God to operate in any situation. Personally I am here to learn the model as I will be planting houses of prayer in Ireland but plan to have more of an orthodox focus. Also I noticed you frequently referenced orthodox monks however my studies have shown that all are able to pray the Jesus prayer. Contemplative prayer is actually a heavy point at IHOP. Jesus prayer is orthodoxy's primary form of contemplative prayer from my understanding and considering converting naturally I wanted to learn more about it. There are writers things here but there its also alot pig focus on desert fathers and church mystics mostly from Catholicism so i wanted to find more instruction from orthodoxy. That is my primary reason for seeking your help I understand IHOP has a peculiar reputation and I'm in no way trying to defend it but I do believe in their mission of night and day prayer and I believe a model can be formed to actually make orthodoxy more noticed in the west.