The 4th WARC-Pentecostal Dialogue

May 14-20, 1999


"The Holy Spirit, Charisma, and the Kingdom of God" was the theme of the recent meeting of the international Dialogue between the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC) and Pentecostals held May 14-20, 1999. The International Theological Institute and Yoido Full Gospel Church hosted the meeting in Seoul, Korea. The Dialogue teams were warmly welcomed to Seoul by Pastor Suk Hwan Ko, Assistant Pastor of Yoido Full Gospel Church who brought greetings on behalf of Pastor David Yonggi Cho. The Reverend Cho, Senior Pastor at Yoido Full Gospel Church was away on an international mission at the time of the Dialogue

This fourth of a projected five meetings was co-chaired by the Reverend Abival Pires Da Silveira (Presbyterian – Brazil) and the Reverend Cecil M. Robeck, Jr. (Assemblies of God – USA). The current theme was chosen following earlier discussions on the relationship between Word and Spirit, "The Role and Place of the Holy Spirit in the Church," and "The Holy Spirit and Mission in Eschatological Perspective." Participants in this Dialogue are attempting to (1) increase mutual understanding and respect between the two traditions, (2) identify areas of theological agreement, convergence, or disagreement, and (3) explore possibilities for common witness between these two world-wide communities. They trust that the churches world wide, will use their statements to promote understanding, fellowship, and common witness.

The Reverend Dr. Milan Opocenský, General Secretary of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and his wife, the Reverend Dr. Jana Opocenská participated in the Dialogue during the early days of the meeting. They had just completed a week, long study of church life in China, and they shared their experiences and insights from that trip with the Dialogue teams. It is Dr. Opocenský who envisioned the formation of the ongoing WARC-Pentecostal Dialogue

To facilitate discussion, Yohan Hyun (Reformed – Korea) and Frank Macchia (Pentecostal – USA) delivered position papers on the Dialogue theme. Professor Hyun began his discussion by exploring the ways in which John Calvin, one of the leading Reformers of the 16th Century, addressed these themes throughout his writings. Professor Hyun demonstrated that Calvin spoke a great deal about the Holy Spirit and the Kingdom of God. Calvin’s chief interest, however, was the work of the Holy Spirit in relation to the Word of God and the spiritual reign of Christ on earth until the last day and Christ’s Second Coming. Although Calvin thought that Christ’s reign on earth is spiritual he did not support a separatist view of Church and State. For him, the State as well as the Church are under God’s reign, though he did not allow a mixing of the two spheres. For Calvin, Christ’s spiritual reign on earth is so real, that it should be concretely realized in this world. As a result, Calvin’s reformation in Geneva took a theocratic outlook. Some of the tenets that Calvin handed on to the Reformed tradition include: (1) a heavy emphasis on the work of the Holy Spirit in relation to the Word of God, (2) the general cessation of extraordinary gifts, (3) the balance of the present and future dimensions of the Kingdom of God, (4) an a-millennial view of eschatology, and (5) a suspicion toward the fanaticism of expecting Christ’s return on a predicted day.

In the history of the Reformed churches, the emphasis on the Spirit’s work in and through the Word of God has been very important. Professor Hyun noted that some Reformed theologians have maintained the theory of the cessation for "extraordinary" gifts [such as tongues and miracles]. More recently, many of them have become more open to such extraordinary gifts, though they are not usually enthusiastic about miraculous gifts. Although traditionally the Calvinist view of eschatology is a-millennial, some Reformed theologians have come to support post-millennial or pre-millennial positions. In recent years, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches has become deeply concerned about social justice, and issues of peace and the integrity of creation (JPIC). It has pursued the Kingdom of God in this direction both in its understanding and the way that it lives.

In his paper, Professor Frank Macchia described the spiritual gifts (charismata) as providing grace in a world that is often graceless. Paul’s discussion of the charismata, as "gifts of grace" arises out of his own rich experience of God’s abundant grace and are directed toward inspiring Christians to desire a prolific and diverse experience of grace in the Church through an abundance of gifted activity. Pentecostals have traditionally focused attention on the extraordinary "spiritual" gifts of 1 Corinthians 12:8-10. While Professor Macchia found value in this focus, he sought to include a broader variety of charismata under the rubric of "spiritual gifts." All of the gifts glorify God and build the Church up in God’s love.

While not denying the importance of the ordained ministry and its role in the administration of Word and sacrament, a greater appreciation for the charismata will allow all of the People of God to serve as ministers in the broad variety of gifts. The gifts will also take us beyond knowledge of revelation to new creation in Christ. At the foundation of this understanding of Church and salvation is the role of the charismatic Christ who yielded to the Spirit in an unprecedented way and now bestows the Spirit through His redemptive work upon the people of God. This allows them to share in His experience of the Spirit and liberating charismatic ministry in the world. As the Book of Acts shows, the gifts aid the Church in serving the Kingdom of God in the world, in both the proclamation of the Gospel and in liberating social concern. The gifts are thus eschatological, providing strength in weakness as the people of God are transformed more and more into the image of Christ. Though the gifts are incarnated in natural talents, they can also magnify grace in extraordinary and inexplicable ways.

Throughout the week, participants worshipped together. On Sunday, May 16, the Dialogue teams visited a service together at the Yoido Full Gospel Church, a congregation founded by Pastor David Yonggi Cho. There they heard a sermon by the Reverend Suk Hwan Ko based upon Mark 5:24-34 titled "Who Touched Me?" In that sermon, Pastor Ko encouraged the congregation to reach out and touch Jesus in order to receive all that Jesus had for them. In the afternoon and evening, various members of both teams ministered in local Pentecostal and Reformed congregations throughout the larger Seoul area. The Reverend Cecil M. Robeck, Jr., Pentecostal co-chair of the Dialogue, preached at the 1:00 PM service at Yoido Full Gospel Church. Drawing from Ephesians 4:1-6, he attempted to show that unity was a priority for Paul. He urged his hearers to live up the their calling by modeling lives of humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another in love. He affirmed their record of accomplishments in this regard and encouraged the congregation to continue to "maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace."

Participants included Paul A. Haidostian (Lebanon), Gesine von Kloeden (Germany), Nisse E. Norén (Sweden), Aureo R. Oliveira (Brazil), Cephas Narh Omenyo (Ghana), Joseph D. Small (USA), and Jan Veenhof (Netherlands/Switzerland) on the Reformed team. The Pentecostals were also represented by David D. Daniels (USA), Harold D. Hunter (USA), Richard D. Israel (USA), Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen (Finland), Julie C. Ma (Korea/Philippines), Wonsuk Ma (Korea/Philippines), Jean-Daniel Plüss (Switzerland), and Miguel Álvarez (Honduras/Philippines).

The WARC includes 208 member churches in 102 countries of the world, embracing Presbyterian, Reformed, Congregational and United Churches. Emphasizing the centrality of the Word of God, they accept the historical creeds, understand the Church as the people of God and pursue bilateral theological dialogue with Christians of different traditions.

Pentecostal churches trace their origin to several early 20th Century revivals. Pentecostals emphasize personal conversion, ongoing sanctification and empowerment of the Holy Spirit in the life of the church and mission to the world. Stressing biblical authority and spiritual gifts, Pentecostals have grown into a worldwide movement numbering more than 250 million members, and may be found in most countries of the world.

The fifth meeting of the Dialogue is tentatively scheduled for May 2000 in São Paulo, Brazil. The Reformed family will host that meeting. The work of the meeting in Brazil will focus on the development of a joint statement that can be shared with the churches of both Reformed and Pentecostal traditions, based upon the first five years of discussion together. Believing that the current round of discussions has been of benefit, both teams are hopeful that the Dialogue will continue into a second round of discussions.