Dr. Paul Thigpen – The Road from Topeka to Rome (DIH 2008)


This was really a long title … The Road from Topeka to Rome, or How Pentecostalism has Helped Many on the Journey to Rome.

The basic thesis is that because of some fundamental aspects of Pentecostalism, many are (perhaps quite surprisingly), drawn much closer theologically and so forth to Catholicism.

Fr. Louis Bouyer had a very interesting thesis in his book The Spirit and Forms of Protestantism (he was himself a convert). In particular, while he was very grateful for his Protestant upbringing, the principles underlying Protestantism tend to break out from time to time as revivals. In doing so, they help those involved, because they are generally true, to rediscover lost parts of their Catholic roots.

For example, examine the life of John Wesley (a subject for a later post).

The major reformers came to the conclusion that the season of God’s miracles was over, in contradiction to the Catholic Church.

They tended, especially Calvin, tended away from mystery … a reaction against too much mysticism.

Consequently, they left behind miracle and mystery.

For this reason, the roots of the enlightenment are really in the Protestant Reformation.

This is a very interesting conundrum.

This left us with the Deists and atheists. But there were more pervasive influences.

For example, by the 1950s a bunch of Protestant America were sort of “dispensational, or functional deists”. In other words, this is a period in which God is rather remote, and we can’t expect God to get too involved with our world.

This is in direct contrast to the Catholic, or sacramental way of viewing the world. God invaded our world in the Incarnation and is never, never going to let go. Nothing could ever be the same after this.

Reality itself is changed … it becomes sacramental. Heaven and earth are joined at the hip.

We become vessels of His grace and power, every day when we celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. He’s right here with us.

This is true in each and every sacrament.

For Paul, his worship was of the mind … from the head up. No sense of mystery, no physicality.

Pentecostals, on the other hand, made big use of the body in worship. Consequently, this was much closer to the Catholic way of doing things.

A Little History
The movement began in Topeka, KS on Jan 1, 1901. Charles Parham. One of his classes when studying Acts 2 began praying, laying on of hands, and speaking in tongues.

One of these students moved back to LA and began preaching on Asuza Street, which became the Asuza Street Revival. This went on for about 3 years, which led to the birth of a worldwide movement.

Then a second wave began in the 1960s when these beliefs and practices found there way into older Protestant churches, and the Catholic Church as well.

Fr. Bennett (an Episcopal priest), among others, became involved.

A common denominator is the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Fairly emotional, but often associated with profound conversion.

When this happens, this previous dispensational deism doesn’t make sense any more.

God becomes real, physical … very, very personal. This reveals the utter closeness of God.

This is a more sacramental, physical / spiritual way of viewing the world.

Some Particulars
Catholics are used to the value of the body … what you do of the body reflects what you do with your mind.

Pentecostals do lots of physical stuff – raising hands, dancing around, and so forth.

See the similarity?

What about healing? Catholics have always continued to proclaim the possibility of miracles. So do Pentecostals.

Visions are the same, in this sense. Catholics have acknowledge (with caution) the continuing sense of private revelations (visions, locutions, and so forth); Pentecostals do the same thing … granted there are many problems with this, which is what happens without authority and a firm foundation.

Laying on of hands? Same. Real changes caused by God, working through human hands.

Fasting? Check.

Religious processions? Check.

Prophecy? The Name of Jesus? Spoken voice? Check. Check. Check.

Blessings? Check.

Sacramental objects, such as oil, prayer cloths, holy water? Check. Check. Check.

Hierarchy and divine authority. Here the story is more mixed. Some of the denominations are developing the notion that God’s divine authority is invested in particular people. While this may be mistaken in practice, it is a Catholic view of the world.

Exorcism? Check. In other words, the spiritual reality is right here, right now. If God can get this close, so can the devil and other demons.

These are all areas where the Pentecostals have come back to the Catholic Church.

In this sense even some of the more exuberant forms of worship, such as praise and worship bands, are in a certain sense growing closer to the Catholic sense of the world.

Once Paul and many others went from their mainstream Protestant origins to Pentecostalism, this made the Catholic view of the world much more plausible.

How did much of this develop? Easy, by reading the Scriptures without his original filters turned on.

This sort of transformation is occurring to millions and millions of people, which is preparing the way for many believers to come home to a more sacramental Church.

It’s also bridging some of the chasm between Catholics and Protestants.

Finally, this is important because it has restored a deeper sacramental perspective to Catholics themselves (definitely the case for myself!).

While there have been many problems, the benefits for Christianity as a whole is very real – millions upon millions of people are now closer to the Catholic Church than they were before.

We should be very grateful to God for this reality.

Dr. Paul Thigpen – The Road from Topeka to Rome (DIH 2008)

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