Evangelical worship has, for the most part, embraced the “religious feelings” of Pentecostalism. Not surprisingly, charismatic doctrine has begun to capture the theological minds of those who were formerly cessationists. It remains to be seen how much longer those churches that claim to be non-charismatic in doctrine will remain that way, if they persist in embracing the passions and sentiments of Pentecostal worship.
A good theologian once drew me a diagram of the progress of Christian doctrine and Christian history from the apostles to our day. He drew a rather jagged line, with offshoots and branches coming off it. He explained, “The line from the apostles to us today is not a straight one. It includes many errors, corrections, over-corrections and responses to those over-corrections. The line of orthodoxy therefore is never a perfectly straight line of descent, it is as jagged as all the movements away from and back towards orthodoxy. Along the way, there are genuine departures from the faith: actual heresies that veer off far from the faith: those are the far-flung branches breaking off from the jagged line. It’s important to distinguish when something is a true departure from the faith, or when it is a reaction within orthodoxy needing its own correction.”
The same line could be drawn for worship. Christian worship over the centuries has been the same jagged line of errors, corrections, reactions, overreactions and so forth. These have included controversies such as the use of musical instruments, the singing of psalms only or hymns and psalms, the question of ministerial robes, the presence of images in the meeting place, and several other disputes. Sometimes there have been genuine worship heresies: the worship of Mary as an intercessor, or the Mass as the body and blood of Christ available for the expiation of sins.
Where does Pentecostalism fall on these jagged lines? On the theological side, Pentecostalism’s errors are serious, though not fatal. That is, erroneous teaching on the Holy Spirit and the charismatic gifts represent significant deviations in the whole body of orthodox Christian doctrine, but they do not constitute a denial of the gospel. (That is, unless a proponent articulates them so, as in the man who says you must speak in tongues to be saved, or experience a baptism of the Spirit to be truly regenerate.) As long as Pentecostals profess the gospel of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, they remain brothers and sisters in Christ. However, errors are seldom stable things. They have trajectories, and the general trajectories of Pentecostal errors in the last century have been bad fruit: the Prosperity Gospel, the Toronto Blessing, and all the extremes that have accompanied those. A good tree brings forth good fruit, and so on.