The Lord’s Supper: Pentecostal View

As I noted in my previous entry, I wanted to spend some time highlighting the distinctives of a Pentecostal view of the Lord’s Supper. Gordon T. Smith, the editor of the volume, notes that the reason for adding this view was to do diligence to the explosion of growth in the Pentecostal movement globally (p. 8). In light of the emergingveli-matti_karkkainen-1 theology under girding this movement, Smith thought it necessary to bring them into conversation here.

The Pentecostal view is put forth by Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen, Fuller’s Global theologian. V-Matti starts his essay off with a hilarious aside, noting that in The New International Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements (2002), the entry on the sacraments is actually written by a Roman Catholic theologian – along with the entry on ecclesiology! Fortunately, sans anathemas. Kärkkäinen attempts to briefly map the trouble with talking about a “Pentecostal” theology, particularly in light of the fact that the theology of the movement has not caught up with its experience and practice. So while, in one breath, it might be justified to argue that the movement has an antisacramental sentiment, in the next you have to note that, in certain places, there is a specific working eucharistic practice and devotion.

Following Roger Olson’s articulation of the Baptist view, Kärkkäinen focuses initially on the Pentecostal allergy to anything resembling ex opere operato. This of course, should not surprise us. It is here that Kärkkäinen acknowledges that the Pentecostal view is something close to a Zwinglian account. He also notes that, not surprisingly, there are at times an emphasis on the Holy Spirit’s work in the ordinance of communion, pushing it towards something closer to a sacramental understanding. This unfortunately, is not explained (but I will offer some unsolicited advice on how to accomplish it below). So far, this is very similar to what Olson did when he worked through the Baptist view (which Stephenson in his response quickly reminds everyone).

Kärkkäinen then moves beyond this account to offer emphases of distinction. One such emphasis is the Holy Spirit, noted above, another is the concept of healing applied to the Lord’s Supper. Healing, of course, is a central reality in the Pentecostal worldview, and Kärkkäinen notes: “In keeping with ancient Christian tradition in which the Eucharist was depicted as pharmakon or medicine, Pentecostals at times envision partaking in the Lord’s Supper as a place for healing” (p. 126). The table represents that which heals the world, and so I find it interesting that this concept has not been explored (to my knowledge) by many before the Pentecostals. Kärkkäinen notes that, “The Pentecostal theologian Amos Yong suggests that it is time for Pentecostals to begin to construct a pneumatological ecclesiology in which the sacraments, in this case the Lord’s Supper, are part of what he calls a Pentecostal liturgy that becomes a ‘sacrament of the Spirit.'”

Now, for the sake of our (certainly) large Pentecostal contingent on Theology Forum, I thought I would offer a proposal for a pneumatologically heavy doctrine of the Lord’s Supper. I do warn you that my “thinking out loud” has often landed me in dangerous territory, but apologies aside, I have been thinking as of late about Owen’s and Edwards’ pneumatologically robust doctrine of the incarnation. For Edwards, if someone were to “dissect” the human Christ, you would only find two components: 1) a whole human person; 2) the Holy Spirit. Edwards would be adamant that this does not mean the Spirit is the one incarnated.For Edwards, the way that God incarnates, bonds, or unites to himself  is by His Spirit. Therefore, in giving believers the Holy Spirit, it is said that Jesus dwells within them. In the incarnation, the Spirit unites the human Jesus with the eternal Logos, creating a man who is both God and man fully, and who is filled with the Spirit without measure.

Taking this for granted, following Owen and Edwards, would it be possible to develop an understanding of the presence of Christ in the elements as a real Spirit union between the element and Christ himself? This would solve Calvin’s problem with the embodied Jesus not being able to be both in Heaven as well as in the elements, as well as maintain any issue with the elements retaining their true physicality. It seems that one of the great abilities of the Spirit is to transform while maintaining identity and unity (spiritual gifts, body of Christ, etc.). The Spirit, in other words, can bring something to a highened sense of its reality, of its true being, without diminishing in any way the idenity, composition and structure of that being.

Now of course, making this move entails a somewhat radical Christology, pneumatology and a specific kind of Trinitarian theology, but I thought I would throw it out there nonetheless. It could also push toward an understanding of the sacrament that would make many Pentecostals uncomfortable, but certainly those issues could be navigated. It seems to me that the Pentecostals are wanting to push closer to a Reformed view than a Baptist, while emphasizing their ecclesiological distinctives and pneumatological concerns. In light of this, Owen and Edwards could very well be good sources.

In any case, just thinking out loud….er…out blog.

I appreciated that Smith added the Pentecostal view. There were certainly elements with vast overlapping between both the Baptist and Reformed position, but based on the current ecclesiological and theological developments, it makes sense to have it as part of the volume.


6 thoughts on “The Lord’s Supper: Pentecostal View

  1. Thanks Kyle for offering a “pentecostal” view on the Eucharist – very ambitious, especially when you try to merge Edward’s puritanism into it. I find your elucidation very interesting and will have to think more upon it.

    Just to clarify, I was under the impression that Calvin had a large Pneumatological influence within his “receptionist” view of the Eucharist. If Christ is localized within the heavens as Calvin claims, the only way for us to experience his presence and grace is to be brought to us through the Spirit. Is this right or your understanding of it?

    • Jesus is and always has been the eternal Word of God and even when He was localized on the earth as Man, God was still up-holding all things by the Word of His power, has Christ always been omniscient? I would say YES, if omniscient then omnipresent, but not in body. awesome subject.

  2. Yes, and that is certainly the direction the Pentecostal believers seem to want to go. Calvin asserts what Edwards and Owen confess, that Christ is presented to us Spiritually (by the Spirit), but for Owen and Edwards, that is a claim made consistently throughout their theology starting with the incarnation. I figure, hey, if you are going to start with the Lord’s Supper and work your way back, why not do so with a radical Christology!?

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