A few years ago, my Orthodox pal Frederica Mathewes-Green Terry Mattingly told me he noticed something about ecumenical gatherings he attended. During coffee breaks, the Reformed folks and the Catholics tended to congregate to talk about doctrine, while the Orthodox and the Pentecostals hived together to talk about worship. I was Catholic then, and couldn’t quite relate to what he was saying. Now, though, having spent seven years in Orthodoxy, I get it.

As a Catholic, I was a fellow traveler with Catholic charismatics, simply because I am far more open to mystical experience than most meat-and-potatoes Catholics. But at the same time, the emotionalism and the aesthetic contours of charismatic Catholicism was an insurmountable barrier to me. I don’t like holding hands, don’t like praise choruses, don’t like any of that. I’ve got nothing at all against Christians who do, but it’s not me. I related more to intellectual Catholicism, which was, and is, rigorous, but I often found my longing for more beauty and a more transcendent quality unsatisfied.

Understand, I’m not complaining, just describing. I didn’t become Orthodox to embrace a form of Christianity that hit my personal sweet spot, but that’s what happened. Orthodox Christianity offers sacramentalism, tradition, and intellectual depth, but keeps spiritual and mystical experience in a place of primacy. I have never worshipped with Pentecostals — the closest I came was once or twice attending charismatic Catholic mass — but on many occasions in the Orthodox liturgy I’ve experienced that sense of joy and release that are said to be central to the Pentecostal experience.

All that is to say that I found fascinating the Pentecostal writer Dave Coulter’s reflections on how sacramentalism is creeping into American Pentecostal thought and practice through the experiences of Pentecostals from historically Orthodox nations. Excerpt:

When one considers many of the basic impulses of Pentecostal spirituality these trends are not so surprising.

  • Pentecostals have always held to a sacramental view of the world in which God is immanently at work

Pentecostals have no problem with the idea that material realities can mediate spiritual realities as viewed in their practice of anointing handkerchiefs to send out to the sick. They also function with a hermeneutic that interprets scripture symbolically. This is part of the reason why many gravitated toward premillennialism in the first place, but it also explains why they operate with a multilayered approach to the interpretation of scripture.

  • Central to Pentecostal spirituality is a theology of encounter that accents a conscious experience of divine presence

Normally, this experience occurs around a mourner’s bench (the low-church version of an altar), but in the Pentecostal mind it remains connected to a sacramental view of the world. Anything can become a conduit of God’s presence and thus facilitate an encounter with God.

Taken together, a sacramental outlook  and a theology of encounter provide fertile soil for a turn toward sacramentalism and the spiritual traditions of Christianity. In fact, the Pentecostal push toward sacramentalism challenges other traditions to emphasize the connection between charismatic and sacramental encounters with grace. At the end of the day, these are simply two ways of describing the same reality.

Fascinating. I think it might be easier for a Pentecostal to convert to Orthodoxy than a Calvinist.