My two previous blogs on Pentecostalism and the political have approached this intersection through consideration of prayer and the prophetic. Even if a stretch, careful observers of the religious life know well that Christians are called to pray for their governments and political leaders even as there may be occasions for civil disobedience; what the scriptural tradition calls “prophetic resistance” in response to what happens in the polis. But if prayer and the prophetic might be tied in with the public square in this way, isn’t the activity of praise altogether only religious and without public or political consequences? What does the liturgical life of believing communities, especially Pentecostal ones with their extended singing, shouting, clapping, and dancing, have to do with the public area?
Of course, those who know their Bible stories have heard of when the people of ancient Israel were instructed to march around the walls of Jericho, following their seven priests, who blew their seven trumpets of rams’ horns (Josh. 6:4). On at least two occasions in the New Testament, it is noted that when the apostolic believers were persecuted for their faith by the magistrates, they responded not only in prayer but also in praise (Acts 4:24-31 and 16:25). In these narratives, the religious and the political realms are connected. And these narratives of the earliest Christian followers of Jesus play a normative role in the modern Pentecostal imagination. Like other restorationists, they look to the apostolic testimonies, especially those recorded in the book of Acts, as prescriptive for Christian life and practice; the difference is that most Pentecostals believe that they can also experience the kinds of divine response to their praising as did the first generation of Jesus’ followers.
It is no wonder that, while there are growing numbers of Pentecostal believers staking a formal claim in the political processes of local, national, and international government, the rank and file are, by and large, content to keep praying and praising God in their homes, sanctuaries, and communal gatherings. If a secular mentality would retort that, in liberal democracies, such is an appropriate private expression of religious life as distinct from what happens in the public polis, some Pentecostals might agree. They would say that they are “apolitical,” preferring to seek and trust God to orchestrate governmental measures on behalf of the saints, even if all the while they might be praying and praising God while anticipating divine intervention in the political, social, and economic spheres of their lives.
Others, however, might see their praying and praising as even more fundamentally political than voting, running for office, or working as an activist with a non-governmental organization. Such an attitude would be because the act of praise, while essentially religious, is for those who take the time to engage in this activity also a means to impact, if not reshape, the known world and its realities. Declaring the praises of their God and lifting up his name in worship is not, in this case, merely something that believers do in their own private spaces, but constitutes an exaltation of divine authority, power, and rule over every domain of their lives, the political not excepted. In this case, praise, like the priestly trumpets around the Jericho wall, can open political doors, transform the public arena, and even perhaps turn the known world upside down (as was said of the apostles in Acts 17:6).
To be sure, some Pentecostals might perceive, from their times of praise, that God has appointed them to take public action in the divine name. The results could be ambiguous, especially when self-interest is mistaken for celestial prompting. We know in hindsight that for many who feel prayed-up and praised-up, there is a fine, if not altogether discernible, line between “spiritual warfare” and the actual taking up of arms for the cause of faith. Whether or not any actual case of warfare might be justly undertaken, however, the political dimension of personal and corporate praise should no longer be overlooked. At its best, Christian praise and worship acknowledges the divine regency in ways that edify the people of God even in politically adverse situations. Many a Pentecostal testimony has come forth precisely out of such circumstances, in which case we should never underestimate the potency of praise to renew faith in the public square.