Is Pentecostalism a mystical movement?

Image result for mysticism
There are some who are trying to contend that Pentecostalism is a mystical movement or tradition. I disagree with this notion. Pentecostals call themselves Pentecostals since they regard their experience as the same as the experience of the apostles on the day of Pentecost. It would certainly be amiss to label the apostles and the early Christians as mystics. The Pentecostal experience of Holy Spirit is considered as the truly New Testament normal Christian experience of a believer. Paul expected the Ephesian disciples to have this experience (Acts 19).
While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples and asked them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?”
They answered, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.”
So Paul asked, “Then what baptism did you receive?”
“John’s baptism,” they replied.
Paul said, “John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.”
On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied. There were about twelve men in all.

The Pentecostal worldview does not attempt at any demythologization nor cessationalization of the Biblical worldview. Angels, spirits, demons, visions, supernatural signs are as real as cups and chairs and cars. It is quite different from the materialistic view of the universe. It is also opposed to the occultic view of reality that Pentecostalism regards as based on "deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons" (1 Tim.4:1). In fact, any nature-idolizing ideology (even if it were naturalistic materialism) is no less deceptive (cf. C.S. Lewis, Screwtape Letters).

If one begins labeling Pentecostalism as a mystical tradition, then it wouldn't be far from when people begin labeling any spiritual encounter as "mystic" - which is too broad a defining scope for mysticism. Mysticism involves claims of trans-rational subjective experiences of the "ultimate" which are heavily colored by the religious ideology of the experiencer and privileged to him/her alone. In contrast, Pentecostalism does not involve any claim of that sort. In fact, Pentecostal teachers regard human self-attempts towards mystic experience as dangerous and make it important for one to differentiate between hallucinations, demonic deceptions, and real spiritual experience. Regarding the mystic experience, William James had noted as early as 1902 in his Varieties of Religious Experiences:
Nitrous oxide and ether, especially nitrous oxide, when sufficiently diluted with air, stimulate the mystical consciousness in an extraordinary degree. Depth beyond depth of truth seems revealed to the inhaler. This truth fades out, however, or escapes, at the moment of coming to; and if any words remain over in which it seemed to clothe itself, they prove to be the veriest nonsense. Nevertheless, the sense of a profound meaning having been there persists; and I know more than one person who is persuaded that in the nitrous oxide trance we have a genuine metaphysical revelation.
There have been further research done on the similarities of LSD and mystic experiences:

From Epistemics of Divine Reality (2007, 2011)
At this juncture, it is important to make a differentiation between revelation and mysticism. Revelation, as in the case of miracles, visions, dreams is not a human initiative, at least theologically speaking (though lasting effects like the drenched fleece of Gideon warrant the theological standpoint), and so must not be labeled as mystic experience. However, mystic experiences originating in meditation and use of drugs may be easily explained as induced by some psychologically altered state due to stress, anxiety, or chemical imbalance in the body. Hallucinations can easily occur to physically ill, weak, or strained people. The ‘saintliness’ of a person, in addition, must not be taken as the standard of evaluating the genuineness of the experience. As was seen, William James saw that the mystic experience did have positive effects in the lives of the mystics; however, his conclusion was that the striking differences of mystics regarding theology, often out of their allegiance to diverse traditions, lends them no credulity for absolute truth. Their mystic experiences only possess pragmatic value that is ‘relatively in favor of all these things,’ i.e., their traditional religious suppositions. Thus, there are pantheist mystics, monist mystics, and monotheistic mystics all different from each other and proving that mysticism, originally, has no intellectual content. James also points out the existence of diabolical mysticism as witnessed in delusional insanity and paranoia. Thus, mysticism cannot be the source of absolute knowledge regarding either reality or divine reality. At the most, it is subjective, relative, diversified, and perhaps life-changing, yet devoid of genuine knowledge. Therefore, mysticism is unreliable.


Some Similar Hebrew and Hindi Words

קֶרֶן • (kéren) and किरण(kiran) both mean "ray of light"
נהר (nahar) and नहर (nahar) mean "river". Nahar also means river in Arabic, Persian, and Urdu (نهر)
הֵיכַל (hekal) and هيكل (haikal) in Arabic mean temple. The word is used for temple in Hindustani literature.
מֵאִירָה (Meira) means "illuminates" and मीरा (Meera) means prosperous

Approaching Truth

Contrary to the postmodern and deconstructionist skepticism regarding the possibility of encountering truth hermeneutically (which, as has been observed, is self-skeptical as well since deconstructionists need to use the medium of language whose efficiency they doubt), Jesus said "You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free." This might appear too simplistic an understanding of truth; nevertheless, it's undefeatable. Do the deconstructionists believe that they "know the truth and the truth has set them free"? Is it really the truth that they are believing in?

1. Arundhati Principle. (Arundhatīdarśananyāyaḥ (अरुन्धतीदर्शनन्यायः)) The proximate star (or landmark) principle. Arundhati (Alcor) is the smallest star in the Ursa Major, almost invisible. Someone who knows the star can help his friend see it by first pointing to the brightest star closest to Arundhati. Once the friend is able to see the brightest star, it becomes easier to then point to the fainter Arundhati in its proximity. Similarly, distance from truth can make it difficult for some to see it. But, there are brighter truths that are quite visible to the human mind which can serve as proximate guide to seeing the fainter star. Some of these brighter truths might be as simple as parables and illustrations. We use the Arundhati principle almost every time we try to show directions to a place. "After you reach the cantonment area, you will see a big blue house. The little spices shop is just beside it."

2. Proximation principle. As one draws closer, the object of knowledge becomes more clearer and several previous assumptions regarding it begin to fade away gradually. The truer assumptions gain confirmation. Many questions also get answered. A distant reflection of water may turn out to be a mirage. A distant twinkling of faint light might turn out to be a large town. It is not uncommon for those who are far from God to have many assumptions regarding Him, some even doubting His existence. But, as we draw closer to Him, He draws closer to us. Similarly, as one gains more insights of scriptural truths, several notions get clarified and truth is known through ap-proximation.

The Tragedy of a Lured Prophet (1 Kings 13)

1 KINGS 13 gives us the narrative of a prophet whose prophecies were accompanied by signs and wonders.

However, he was lured by another old prophet into doing what was forbidden to him. He was forbidden to eat and drink in that place. But, the old prophet said that the Lord had told him to feed him. The narrative describes the ensuing events that unraveled the error of the prophet lured by lies and his subsequent tragic death by a lion. The lion didn't eat him nor hurt his donkey. Interestingly, the old prophet who lured this young prophet seems to go unpunished. On the other hand, he wisely observes that the young prophet's prophecies will come true and instructs his sons to bury him when he dies along with the young prophet. Subsequently, when the prophecies did come true, and Josiah was turning over the tombs in Bethel, the old prophet's body was honorably left because it was placed together with the young prophet's body in his tomb. Seems shocking.

But, the young prophet erred grievously. He had a two-fold word from the Lord and it was accompanied by two signs. The two-fold word constituted a prophecy related to the false altar worship practiced at Bethel and secondly, the command to the prophet not to eat at Bethel. Both words were equally immutable. God's word has plenary truth-value. The young prophet allowed an inconsistency factor into his system of faith by allowing the old prophet's lie to turn him from the divine command. But, God's word is not inconsistent. If the prophet would not be punished for violating God's command privileged to him, so may not Bethel be punished according to his prophecy against its false worship and violation of God's written command to the people of Israel. However, for whatever reason (open to speculation) he chose to believe the antithetical privileged testimony of the old prophet (a lie) and suffered the consequences for his turning away from faith.

If he himself didn't believe God's command to him, why should people believe in the prophecy concerning them? The teacher and preacher of the word is doubly accountable.


Do Religious Conversion themselves have any evidential value?

While the reasons behind religious conversions may be considered for any potential evidential value, the conversions themselves do not possess any intrinsic value apart from their rationale.

Conversions may have various motivations. There might even be a mixture of various motivations behind them. Conversions prompted by lure or coerced by means of fear or force do not possess intrinsic value. Similarly, conversions backed by diplomatic motives are neither real. Real conversions are governed by strong epistemic values of justification.

King Solomon's turning towards the religions of his non-Jewish wives by itself does not constitute an invalidation of his previous privileged claim of a personal visitation of the Lord in which he received the gift of wisdom. It does not prove that the religions that he turned to in his later years were superior or more advanced or similar to his previous faith. Similarly, King Saul's turn to spiritist involvement in the forbidden practice of contacting the dead doesn't establish spiritism in any way as a valid alternative to the prophetical movement. On the other hand, the medium's terror at seeing Samuel demonstrates the superiority of the prophetical movement. When the prophet Balaam refrained from cursing the Israelites and instead blessed them, it may have seemed that he stood in support of them. But, the New Testament reveals that his heart was covetous.

In any claims of conversions, the motives and the rationale behind them must be thoroughly investigated.

One prominent example of conversion is that of Paul. He wasn't swayed in any way by the preaching of the apostles or the testimony of Stephen's vision at his stoning. He was an uncompromising Pharisee and persecutor of Christians until he had a personal encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus. Following this experience, he underwent several persecutions for the sake of the Gospel. There was no political, social, mainline religious, or economic benefit or advantage from this conversion. The primary rationale behind his conversion was his empirical encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus.

In modern times, we have testimonies of such dramatic conversions in people like Sadhu Sundar Singh (who came to be known as the apostle with bleeding feet), Gulshan Esther, and Karamchand Hans.

But, even as neither the testimonies of the disciples, if Paul had heard them, nor the testimony of Stephen had any evidential value for Paul, such privileged testimonies might not have any evidential value for any other person than the experiencer.

Also, Jesus said that even if a dead were raised and sent to testify, it would not be evidence enough for the Jews who did not take the testimonies of Moses and the prophets seriously. For the Ethiopian Eunuch to whom Philip preached the Gospel, a simple reading of Isaiah and a testimony of Jesus was sufficient evidence for faith.

But, obviously, for Paul, Sundar Singh (who had previously torn and burnt the Bible), and Karamchand (who previously beat his mother for professing faith in Christ) Christian preaching itself was insufficient. They were given a personal physical encounter.

Solomon too had a personal vision. But, he turned away. So, Paul places safeguards when he says: "But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed." (Gal 1:8)

And, he confesses: "But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified." (1 Cor.9:27)


Poetic Similarity in Rabbi Eliezar (1st c), Meir Ben Isaac Nehori (11th c), Quran, and Kabir (15th c)

An 1825 CE painting depicting Kabir weaving

Rabbi Eliezar (around 100 AD)
"If all the seas were of ink,
And all ponds planted with reeds,
If the sky and the earth were parchments
And if all human beings practised the art of writing-
They would not exhaust the Torah I have learned,
Just as the Torah itself would not be diminished any more
Than is the sea by the water removed
By a paint brush dipped in it." [1]

Meir Ben Isaac Nehorai (around 1050 AD)
“Could we with ink the ocean fill,
And were the skies of parchment made;
Were ev’ry stalk on earth a quill,
And ev’ry man a scribe by trade;
To write the love of God above
Would drain the ocean dry;
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Though stretched from sky to sky.” [2]

Quran (632AD)
And if whatever trees upon the earth were pens and the sea [was ink], replenished thereafter by seven [more] seas, the words of Allah would not be exhausted. Indeed, Allah is Exalted in Might and Wise. (Quran 31:27,

Kabir (around 1500 AD)
Saat samund masi karun,
Lekhani sab banraye.
Dharti sab kagad karun,
Hari gun likha na jaye

(Were I to make of the seven seas all ink,
And of every stalk of forest a quill;
Were I to turn the whole earth into paper;
Yet, this would not suffice writing the virtues of God).

[1] Derrida, Of Grammatology, Trans. G.C. Spivak. p.16
[2] The Love of God,
A Poem to make your heart sing.


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