The following commentary addresses the fourth point as advanced by Myron S. Augsburger in “The Contemporary Relevance of the Anabaptist Faith” (Brethren in Christ History and Life, August 2000), which is: “Engaging the Holy Spirit as Sovereign Presence Beyond Subjective Experiences.”
I consider myself blessed to have studied for five years at a Pentecostal undergraduate college (VFCC). Valley Forge offers a Theological Studies track that is as good as any in the country. The track’s academic requirements and practical expectations are very, very serious. Students are required to have a cumulative GPA of 3.0 or higher at the end of their Sophomore, Junior and Senior year to remain in the major. My requirements for the major included 18 credits of Biblical language, a senior research project, and time logged as a TA (Teaching Assistant). These requirements have evolved and broadened a bit since I majored (1999-2004), but they are still very, very demanding, spiritually and intellectually.
I say all of this because Pentecostals are often tagged as hyper-spiritual, non-intellectual, and/or non-academic. Pentecostals are often branded as people who are “heavy” on the Spirit, but “light” on intellectual depth. I would be the first to disagree. There may be Pentecostals who self-identify in such ways, but stereotyping an entire expression based upon the individual expression(s) of a few is an unfortunate and detrimental practice. I walked beside more than a few Pentecostals who embraced intellectual and spiritual experiences equally. It should also be noted that for every Pentecostal who is “heavy” on the Spirit but “light” on intellectualism, there exists a non-Pentecostal Christian who is “heavy” on intellectualism but “light” on Spirit. There is a need for balance between Spirit and intellectualism. There is also a need to understand the many, many times when the spiritual and intellectual overlap, lest one mistakenly think the pair are diametrically opposed and isolated categories. Balance is key. The Pentecostals with whom I have journeyed alongside practiced this balance daily and they faithfully taught others to strive towards it too. I was one of their students and learned much about the Spirit. This was a good lesson for me to learn; I’m thankful for it. We all can learn much about life and living in the Spirit from the Pentecostals.
Augsburger’s thoughts concerning our distinctive embrace of the Spirit echoes the call for cognitive and spiritual equilibrium. He writes, “The dynamic work of the Spirit’s sovereign presence is more than subjective emotional ecstasy, it is the awesome sense that the sovereign Lord is at work in one’s life to call us to consistency with his will.”
Augsburger is suggesting that we not look at discipleship as a mere behavioral mandate, but as deep spiritual transformation occurring deep within us that is confirmed by God’s Word and internal/external experiences. Ours is a daily walk in and with the Holy Spirit resulting in emotional ecstasy, intellectual curiosity, a sense of belonging, and obedience to God’s voice. Yes, the Lord is at work in our lives, through the Holy Spirit, who takes us to the subjective and then well beyond. The Church would do well to once again prioritize the supernatural presence, works, and acts of the Holy Spirit.
Augsburger continues, “This teaching on the sovereign presence of the Spirit is especially relevant in our more existentialist orientation with a corresponding emphasis on the charismatic elements of faith. The ecstatic aspects of religious experience are derivative from and always secondary to the reality of the sovereign presence himself. It is the consciousness of his presence that issues in holiness of life.”
The above statement differentiates the Anabaptist expression of the Spirit from the Pentecostal in that the daily act of discipleship is so fused to the Spirit and spiritual experiences that are founded upon the reality of the presence of God in our lives. It’s not that Pentecostals don’t believe God is present in their lives in the Holy Spirit, as much as it is the practical theological idea that our knowledge of God’s immediate presence in our lives actually is the source of our holiness. A Pentecostal expression of the Spirit more often than not places the onus of holiness upon instantaneous and supernatural acts of the Spirit rather than the presence of the Spirit. Anabaptism focuses upon the reality of the presence of the Spirit in our lives and the daily transformation and holiness resultant.
The Spirit’s presence in our daily lives introduces us to real, deep, and inwardly focused transformation that gently leads towards external re-creation. There is nothing more relevant than inward and outward transformation. Hopeful change is in high demand; our faith is truthfully built upon it. When we understand that God is incredibly present in our daily lives deep change begin to happen. Holiness is pursued, in the Holy Spirit.