AMAZING this article appeared in the AUSTRALIAN (secular press) this morning. Thank you LORD. The article is by Greg Sheridan Foreign Editor.
Scott Morrison is probably the first leader of a significant Western nation to be a faithful member of a Pentecostal Christian church. It has been widely reported that he worships at the Horizon Pentecostal church in Sydney’s Sutherland (I live just 8Km/5m from this church). There have been national leaders in Africa and very prominent politicians in other parts of the world who have been Pentecostals, but not before in a big Western nation.
On that basis, we should celebrate the Prime Minister’s advancement as a further sign of pluralism and diversity in Australia. Indeed, as usual Australia leads the world in some elements of diversity. Our top three positions in government are now held by a Pentecostal PM, a Catholic deputy PM and a Jewish deputy Liberal leader. The fact this is all incidental to their politics and not in itself a big deal is a sign of what a sensible, good society we are at heart.
Nonetheless, it is also the case that the ambient culture is becoming ever more hostile to the belief and practice of Christianity. Morrison was right in parliament to foreshadow that he will be proactive in establishing much needed greater protection for religious freedom. This is good in substance and a popular position in the Coalition parties.
Morrison’s Menzies lecture was given almost in the style of an evangelical preacher and I thought it genuine and effective. Politicians govern on the basis of policy and competence but are also judged on character and personality. Communicating personality in a way that people relate to is beneficial, provided it’s genuine.
ScoMo is genuinely, among other things, a suburban churchgoer. Pentecostals are not well known or understood outside their own tradition. In my recent book, God is Good for You, I write at length about Australian Pentecostals. Let me therefore confess a bias: I like and admire the Pentecostals. In Australia, and around the world, the Pentecostals are one of the most dynamic movements in Christianity.
They are completely mainstream and their doctrine is orthodox in Christian terms and Bible-based. Things that people like about them very much are a tradition of great music, a positive, cheerful outlook and an energy about their worship and their corporate personality. Like all Christian movements, like all human movements, they’ve had their scandals, but that just proves they’re human like everyone else.
Pentecostal theology centres on the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps the central passage in the New Testament that inspires Pentecostals comes in Acts of the Apostles: “When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue raised on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.”
Pentecostals are a Christian denomination, rapidly growing with more than a half-billion followers worldwide, and a movement within many denominations.
Modern Pentecostalism grew out of a little, impoverished, mixed-race church in Azusa Street, Los Angeles, in 1906. It was led by an African-American pastor, William Seymour, a son of freed slaves. This certainly has the right Christian feel about it as the starting point of a big revival.
One of the features that most propels Pentecostal success, I think, is its emphasis on experience rather than intellectualising. This can make its church services emotional and uplifting.
The most controversial aspects of Pentecostalism are traditionally speaking in tongues and faith healing. But almost all Christians of all denominations pray for the sick and accept that occasionally their prayers are answered. Speaking in tongues happens a lot in the New Testament. Pentecostals believe speaking in tongues is the Holy Spirit enabling them to pray. A sceptic may view it as a kind of free-range vocalisation of the sentiment of prayer. There is certainly nothing in it of superstition or of the sinister.
Pentecostals are generally different from evangelicals. The latter typically define themselves by the act of being born again, their adherence to the inerrancy of scripture and the need to actively proclaim the faith. Pentecostals would share much of that and add the need to be baptised again in the Spirit. They have had a lot of success recruiting young people.
Happily, the old hostilities and rivalries between different Christian denominations have substantially disappeared. The differences now tend to be between those who accept the traditional, orthodox teachings of Christianity — such as the physical resurrection of Christ — and those who interpret all such teachings symbolically or allegorically.
My taste in church music tends towards Gregorian chant. But if I’d paid good money to attend any of the Pentecostal services I’ve been to just for the quality of the rock music, I would have no complaints. Because Pentecostals have been using modern communications techniques to deliver a very traditional message for a long time, they’re good at it.
Traditional message, modern communications. A fertile mix.