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European Pentecostal / Charismatic Research Association

 

Press Release, July 17, 1999

 

The European Pentecostal / Charismatic Research Association (EPCRA) held its ninth biennial meeting in Hamburg, Germany, July 13-17,1999. The theme of the conference, which was hosted by the Missionsakademie at the University of Hamburg, was "100 Years of Pentecostal Missions: Lessons Learned - Issues - Promising Prospects." Participants gathered from all sectors of Europe, but they were joined by others from as far away as India, Korea, the Congo, Ghana, and the United States. As a result, discussions were rich with input from throughout much of the world.

The stage was set through a creative address given by the EPCRA Chairman, Dr. Jean-Daniel Plüss. Provocatively titled "The Frog King, or the Coming of Age of Pentecostalism," Plüss’ address challenged participants to give serious consideration to four aspects of Pentecostalism; its theological, missiological, social and ecumenical developments. The papers that followed were remarkably consistent with this challenge.

Allan H. Anderson of Selly Oak Centre for Missiology and World Christianity at the University of Birmingham, England, addressed issues of orality, indigenization, and syncretism in his paper on the "Gospel and Culture in Pentecostal Mission in the Third World." In his presentation titled "Spirit, Eschaton, and Mission: A Contribution to Pneumatological Missiology/Missiological Pneumatology," former Pentecostal missionary, and Director of Iso Kirja College in Finland, Veli Matti Kärkkäinen contended that while Pentecostals and Charismatics had recognized the significance of the Spirit’s power and the fruit of the Spirit, they had yet to plumb the depths of the work of the Spirit in the community, the world and creation.

Director of the Missionsakademie, Erhard Kamphausen explored "Pentecostalism and De-Fetishism: A Ghanaian Case Study." Working with the situation that exists within the charismatic revival in Ghana, Professor Kamphausen demonstrated both the strengths and weaknesses of Pentecostal and charismatic attempts in Ghana to contextualize the Gospel, by placing the Christians of Ghana within a global context. Roswith Gerloff of the University of Leeds set forth: "The African Continuum in Variation and the Pentecostal/Charismatic Mission." She noted the potential contribution of the African churches to the wider Church and the world, the challenge of studying these often diverse movements in all their complexity, and the need for more substantive contextual study of theology.

Michael Bergunder, Lecturer at the University of Halle, set forth "The Pentecostal Paradox: A Popular Religious Movement in Africa, Asia, and Latin America." Drawing first from the categories of mystical spirituality and mythical world view that are derived from the history of World Religions, Bergunder showed their usefulness as categories for understanding Pentecostalism. He then explored the sociological/anthropological perspective of Pentecostalism, before showing that by using these tools, Pentecostals have a unique ability to interact with modernity and post-modernity to develop effective social strategies.

These larger philosophically based missions studies were augmented by three regional studies. Young-gi Hong, a Ph.D. student at the Oxford Centre for Missions Studies described and assessed "The Backgrounds and Characteristics of the Charismatic Korean Mega-Churches." Tondukuzhiyil P. Varughese, Assistant Superintendent of the Malayalam District Council for the South Indian Assemblies of God, presented his findings on "The Influence of Swedish Pentecostalism in India." And Valdis Teraudkalns, General Secretary of the Latvian Bible Society, developed the little-known "Beginnings of Pentecostalism in Latvia."

Ecumenical concerns were explored in the three major papers presented by Harold D. Hunter, Raymond Pfister, and Markku Antola, Hunter who directs the Archives of the International Pentecostal Holiness Church in the USA, asked the question, "Two Movements of the Holy Spirit in the 20th Century? A Closer Look at Global Pentecostalism and Ecumenism." He questioned whether those who see the inherent ecumenical impulse in early Pentecostalism have been fair to the data, and he argued that one cannot sustain that conciliar ecumenism is the only genuine form of ecumenism. He went on to explore alternative models of ecumenism present in the global Pentecostal-Charismatic movement, and suggested that Pentecostals continue to explore the ecumenical frontier.

Raymond R. Pfister, a lecturer at the Missionsakademie and a member of the Theological Commission of the Ecumenical Council of Christian Churches in Hamburg, addressed "The Ecumenical Challenge of Pentecostal Missions." Integrating a theological approach to ecumenism with his hands-on experience of local, grass-roots ecumenism, Pfister argued that Pentecostals need to "Look beyond their own differences as one realizes that the Spirit has been given to the Church" while the Church at large "needs to discover the experience of the Spirit" to which Pentecostals bear witness.

Markku Antola, Executive Secretary of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, convincingly illustrated theological commonalties between Lutherans and Pentecostals in his presentation entitled "The Experience of Christ’s Real Presence in Faith as a Goal for Lutheran Charismatic Renewal." He concluded that the approach taken by the International Lutheran Charismatic Renewal Leaders’ consultation "founded a credible basis for charismatic Lutheran theology."

Ecumenical Issues were also pursued in a panel discussion in which Huibert van Beek and Jacques Matthey of the World Council of Churches were joined by Pentecostals Veli Matti Kärkkäinen and Cecil M. Robeck Jr. in a discussion of "Mission and Ecumenism." Central to this discussion was the interaction concerning the approval given by the Eighth Assembly of the World Council of Churches to develop a "Joint Working Group" between members of the World Council of Churches and the Pentecostal Movement. Potential partners in the discussion for the next six to seven years are currently being selected.

This discussion marked the first time in which someone from the WCC was formally invited to participate in an EPCRA meeting. All discussions allowed extended opportunity for interaction between the presenters and the participants. The conference was notable for the spirit of understanding and good will that prevailed throughout. Instead of concentrating on unresolved problems, participants looked hopefully into the future.

Participants were entertained and challenged by an autobiographical paper, "A Life with the Bible," given by Professor Walter J. Hollenweger, author of Pentecostalism (Hendrickson, 1997). Hollenweger, who has served as a Pentecostal pastor, General Secretary of the World Mission and Evangelism office of the WCC, and Professor of Intercultural Theology at the University of Birmingham, England, and continues to serve as a minister with the Swiss Reformed Church, has integrated the themes of the conference in his own life. He described the lessons he continues to learn in "retirement," from his study of Scripture. Describing key incidents in each stage of is own life, Hollenweger told participants of the need to make the Bible come alive for unchurched people. He went on to describe how he has done so, personally, by drawing upon the fields of culture, theology, and the arts, placing them into creative dialogue with one another, and allowing them to provide graphic, practical exposition of the biblical text.

The next EPCRA meeting is tentatively scheduled to take place in July 2001 in Leuven, Belgium. The general theme will focus on Pentecostals and Ethics. It is anticipated that the papers from the current conference will be published later this year in series, Perspektiven der Weltmission and in a variety of journals.