CESNUR - Centro Studi sulle Nuove Religioni diretto da Massimo Introvigne

londonThe 2008 International Conference
Twenty Years and More: Research into Minority Religions, New Religious Movements and 'the New Spirituality'

An International Conference organized by INFORM and CESNUR in association with ISORECEA at the London School of Economics, 16-20th April 2008

An overview of complexity and the Pentecostal school of thought

by Giovanni TAGLIAFERRI (“Suor Orsola Benincasa” University – Naples )

A paper presented at the 2008 International Conference, London, UK. Preliminary version. Please do not reproduce or quote without the consent of the author.


During its long and eventful history, Christianity has often been described as being essentially changeless in nature, so referring to it in terms of complexity could seem strange.  But it is a matter worthy of close examination and the relationship between faith and philosophy is pertinent.  Conflict is apparent between two fundamental schools of thought: that of divine revelation and that of investigative science in its most elementary and objective form.  To this end, a “complexity” approach is a useful tool in overcoming this ideological clash between faith and investigative science because it helps us ponder the reasons of both without becoming absolutist or dogmatic.
Complexity is a word of Latin extraction. It comes from complectere whose root plectere means to intertwine, link or connect.  It refers to the old tradition of basket weaving which consisted of winding circles by tying one end of a rush to another.  The “com” prefix gives a sense of duality rendering two opposite elements closely intertwining without either relinquishing their own distinct identity. Edgar, Morin, a modern French thinker, was the person who formulated complex thought as it is understood today.  He spurned the concept of totalising knowledge and defined complexity as being a system of disjointed, unknown relationships divided by an unbroken transience, which become itself an organisation model in which to pour consciousness.
Pentecostal thought should be along complex lines when faced with issues like freedom (John 8:32) and tradition (Mark 7:9)  and daily life, discarding the simplistic option of rushing into a straightforward and fixed line of action, and preferring to carefully weigh up all the aspects surrounding the case in point.  The complexity of Christian, and especially Pentecostal, thought, is not identical to that described by Morin for several reasons.  Whatever Pentecostal thought takes upon itself to examine, sinks its roots in the Sacred Scriptures.   The Bible is the canvas which we must embroider the pattern.  It gives us our bearings whilst navigating in the meanders of complexity and bringing it to bear on the various matters.  Therefore, the Pentecostal movement must be considered a forward looking movement in terms of complexity, one which goes beyond the biblical truth, and unlike other religions, it does not judge or criticize others, neither in the actions of its past and present traditions nor in the words of its world leaders. It will be our task to take a close look at the three themes of freedom, tradition and daily life where we can trace complexity in the Pentecostal approach.    
Freedom has always been a matter of debate between the lay world and the religious one.  Between total liberalism and religious dogmatism, the Sacred Scriptures say in the gospel in the book of St. John (8:32)”……you will know the truth and the truth will make you free……..” Therefore, the truth,  described in the redeeming work of Jesus Christ becomes the means to reach true freedom, but this kind of freedom is conceived as a complex freedom , a freedom of choice which presupposes one condition: freedom from the bondage of sin though the redeeming work of Jesus Christ.   In this way, man free of bonds has true freedom to choose between good and evil, between proximity or distance from God;  he is free to sin or not, whilst being aware that choosing sin means losing freedom and regressing to a state of dependence and slavery (John 8:34).  Therefore, complexity manifests itself in the expression of a freedom which is lost once one actually takes that freedom.  Free man, though the redemption of Christ, can choose between good and evil, but if he chooses evil he will fall within its dominion and never feel free again: one is faced with a freedom which must be constructed day by day in everything we do.  The Sacred Scriptures speak of a complex freedom which must be considered in its essence and not in the way it appears.  Tradition is a fundamental point of divergence between the Roman Catholic Church and Protestantism in general. To Catholics tradition means an authoritative documentary source.  According to the Council of Trent, Jesus also taught the various doctrines which were handed down by word of mouth.  “This truth and discipline is contained in written texts and in non written traditions, which – received by the apostles from the mouth of Christ himself. Or from the apostles themselves under dictation from the Holy Spirit – reached us and were  transmitted from one person to another.” 1 “Consequently” the II Vatican Council continues “the Church does not take its convictions only from the Sacred Scriptures on the total contents of the Revelation. And therefore, both versions must be received and venerated with the same feelings of love and respect.” 2 The Pentecostal Movement is mindful of this, examines it in all its complexity and with proper attention to the relevant scriptures, as is fitting given the opinion and value that a Church as great and important as the Catholic one attributes to it. In the scriptures in more than one point, the value of tradition is eschewed (for example, in Mark 7:9).  Moreover, many doctrines passed down by tradition are not found in the       Scriptures. From a complex point of view, obviously this does  not mean that tradition must be totally rejected nor must its intrinsic value, which is certainly important in interpreting the Scriptures and in understanding historical background, but we certainly cannot establish doctrines exclusively on the basis of unwritten traditions.  Traditions, customs and habits which exist in all religious movements, (including the Pentecostal movement), are most certainly useful establishing internal order for an internal system and to inculcate good habits, but they should never replace or complement the Revealed Scriptures.
The last thing we want to examine is how a Christian Pentecostal goes about his daily life which can be broken up into relationships embarked on, activities begun, places visited, and ideas exchanged with others.  On these matters, the Sacred Scriptures leave it to our own discretion to a certain extent, and often our daily life is ruled by traditions and personal opinions, which in their turn have turned into doctrines and ecclesiastical regulations all of which applied social pressure on those who did not abide by them.  The Pentecostal movement takes a position on these issues by first examining the Sacred Scriptures and attentively considering the lessons they contain.  It appraises with “complexity” the points on which the Revealed Scriptures leaves us freedom of choice.  During the centuries, various religious movements, driven by a simplistic and sketchy point of view, have forced restrictions and limitations on its followers without backing from the Sacred Scriptures.  A complex religious movement cannot pass sentence when the Sacred Scriptures do not.    It cannot chastise in their place.  It cannot impinge on the daily life and relationships of its adepts with rules of conduct which have been drawn from sources other than the Sacred Scriptures.
If the Pentecostal movement works with complexity, with its own new version of complexity which is different from the Morin original because it sinks its roots in the absolute truth revealed in the Sacred Scriptures, this could lead to peaceful relations between the different religions and could bring a positive change to religious fundamentalism and its calamitous consequences.  Complexity in Pentecostal philosophy could be that extra quid which fosters greater dialogue between lay people and the religious world.  A constructive dialogue which enhances differences and  clearly expresses the sense of life resting it on a rule of absolute faith which places its trust in the Holy Bible, its constant and unfailing guide.

1 Deeds of the Council of Trent, Session IV, 8th of April 1546 See: Denzinger, p. 364.

2 Dogmatic constituent on the divine revelation


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