1998 WARC-Pentecostal Dialogue Press Release

"The Holy Spirit and Mission in Eschatological Perspective" was the theme of the recent meeting of the International World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC)-Pentecostal Dialogue held May 14-19, 1998 at the Haus der Stille und Besinnung in Kappel-am-Albis, Switzerland. This third of a projected five meetings was co-chaired by the Reverend Salvatore Ricciardi (Waldensian - Italy) and the Reverend Cecil M. Robeck, Jr. (Assemblies of God - USA). Topics chosen in previous years have included the relationship between Word and Spirit, and The Role and Place of the Holy Spirit in the Church. This Dialogue is an attempt to (1) increase mutual understanding and respect, (2) identify areas of theological agreement, convergence, or disagreement, and (3) explore possibilities for common witness between these two world-wide communities.

The meeting was opened with an address by the eminent Professor Walter J. Hollenweger who for many years served on the faculty of the University of Birmingham, England. He is a former Pentecostal minister who is now a minister with the Reformed Church in Switzerland, though he has remained a life-long student of global Pentecostalism. His recently published book, Pentecostalism: Origins and Developments Worldwide is an attempt to describe and assess the theological development of this worldwide Movement.

Professor Hollenweger's address challenged the participants from the Reformed and Pentecostal churches to rise above what he called "An Irresponsible Silence" and to address their common concerns with integrity and openness. He chided them for their "misunderstandings" and their "cultural prejudices" that he described as being frequently „camouflaged in theological language" rather than being confronted directly. Among those differences he cited were the gifts of the Holy Spirit, including speaking in tongues, and the debate over election and free will. He challenged the Reformed delegates and their churches to move from their "silence" by learning more about Pentecostalism and taking seriously the experiential dimension of the Christian life. He warned the Pentecostals that their silence jeopardized the unity of the Church. He challenged them to move beyond their silence by rediscovering their roots which he described as Black, catholic, evangelical, critical, and ecumenical.

Dr. Milan Opocensky, General Secretary of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches also addressed the participants. He challenged them to be diligent in their work together. "This is not just an academic exercise," he noted, "for we are helping each other to be more faithful." Opocensky went on to observe that this dialogue is "breaking new ground" in keeping with the new common understanding and vision of the World Council of Churches (WCC). The WCC, in which many Reformed churches hold membership, has been looking for ways to enlarge the ecumenical table in order to be more inclusive of the Pentecostal churches.

On May 14, Rev. Reudi Reich, President of the Cantonal Reformed Church of Zurich met for a short discussion with the co-chairs and staff persons regarding the progress of the discussions. He then brought greetings to the larger group, noting the historic character of the site on which the Dialogue was held. Kappel is the battlefield upon which, in 1531, the Zurich Reformer, Huldrich Zwingli and several hundred of his fellows were killed in a battle with Roman Catholic soldiers. While Zwingli has influenced churches of the Reformed and the Pentecostal traditions, their differences are now being addressed by words rather than the weapons of war. It was the Cantonal Reformed Church of Zurich that hosted the Dialogue in Kappel.

To facilitate discussion, Cephas Omenyo (Reformed - Ghana) and Byron Klaus (Pentecostal - USA) delivered position papers on the Dialogue theme. Professor Omenyo emphasized the Holy Spirit as the power standing behind all Christian missionary activity. While the Church lives between the times, already experiencing the reign of God, it continues to look for the fullness of the coming kingdom of God. The Holy Spirit provides the power necessary to stand in this tension. The forward looking perspective is marked by "action in hope," and the Church’s work includes full participation in the mission of God (missio Dei).

Professor Klaus underscored the Pentecostal affirmation of the immediate availability of God’s power and presence. The work of the Holy Spirit provides empowerment for service that is linked to the Baptism in the Spirit. He posited that the legacy of Pentecostalism is intertwined with global evangelization. While Pentecostals have focused on the proclamation in mission, with an emphasis on supernatural power and eschatological urgency, Klaus noted that a wholistic theology of church mission with a clear eschatological orientation is resurfacing from previously marginalized groups in the Western and non-Western worlds.

B. Klaus concluded with challenges to the Pentecostal community to 1) clarify its definition of mission, 2) observe a shifting balance of power globally that recognizes the former object of mission praxis has now become the subject-partner, 3) acknowledge the impact of institutionalization and globalization, and 4) be aware of the impact of political realities.

The discussions that followed helped the delegates to understand both traditions more fully, and to develop an outline in which similarities and differences can be more clearly understood. Together, both teams affirmed that the Holy Spirit alternatively judges or nurtures different aspects of human culture, providing opportunity for the Church to bear witness to the missio Dei in the world.

Throughout the week, participants worshipped together. On Sunday, May 17, they were guests of the Reformed congregation at the Kreuzkirche in Zurich. Pastor Jürg Spielmann preached from Psalm 51:11-14 in which he noted the need of the Church to develop a willing spirit to accept God’s forgiveness, thereby being enabled to take other Christians more seriously. In ecumenism, he noted, it is the Holy Spirit who binds Christians together in Christ.

Participants included Moses Jayakumar (India), Marsha Snulligan Haney (USA), Yo-Han Hyun (Korea), Jan Veenhof (Netherlands/Switzerland), and Henry Wilson (India/Switzerland) on the Reformed team. The Pentecostals were also represented by Dan Albrecht (USA), Anthea Butler (USA), Harold D. Hunter (USA), Richard Israel (USA), Veli-Matti Karkkäinen (Finland), Julie Ma (Korea / Philippines), Wonsuk Ma (Korea / Philippines), Frank Macchia (USA) and Jean-Daniel Plüss (Switzerland).

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 world-wide movement.

The fourth meeting of the Dialogue is tentatively scheduled for May 1999 in Seoul, Korea. The topic that will be addressed at the next meeting will be: "Charism and Kingdom."