JOINT CONSULTATIVE GROUP
World Council of Churches and Pentecostals
Quito, Ecuador, 27 08-01.09
Members of the WCC-Pentecostal Joint Consultative Group gathered for their second meeting at the Seminario Sudamericano, a seminary of the Church of God (Cleveland,TN), to continue a journey of coming to know each other. The context of Latin America and time with the Pentecostal host community deepened and challenged the encounter because of the dynamic life of the Church in that place. The theme chosen for the week was Perceptions of One Another. The members of the group discussed their concerns and views of one another through presentations and through reflection on a variety of topics that are outlined in this report. Additionally, the group worshipped and studied the Bible together. The members also learned of the work of churches throughout Latin America. They visited the Latin American Council of Churches (Consejo Latinoamericano de Iglesias - CLAI). They participated in an educational meeting at an Assemblies of God Seminary, and they had many informal contacts with the seminary communities they visited.
The worship included an opening worship presented by the host seminary community and it represented the first time the Consultative Group had experienced a Pentecostal worship service. On following mornings the group members led informal worships that represented different traditions included in the group. The worship experiences helped all the persons present to glimpse the variety and richness of the manners Christ is adored within the group member churches.
Bible study also served to place the life and purpose of the community in the light of Holy Scripture. One morning the group examined together Ruth 1 and considered the sacrifices many Christians have made for the unity of the Church. Another time the group looked at the gifts of the Spirit as presented in 1Corinthians 12. On other mornings the group looked at Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman (John 4), at the need for the underlying purpose of unity (Genesis 11), at the way that all members are held together by Christ through supporting “ligaments” (Ephesians 4), and the love and mutual respect that should exist between Christians with different opinions (Romans 14).
Prior to the meeting, a plan was developed to have WCC team members and Pentecostals reflect upon the theme, Perceptions of One Another. Because of personal circumstances, all but one of the presentations were made by WCC team members. Those presentations, and the discussions summarized in this report, demonstrate the work needed to be done among all the participants, their churches, and the organizations from which they come. Participants need to learn about each other, challenge each other’s perceptions and prejudices, and listen and learn through the encounter. The straightforwardness of the notes may serve to outline the issues that need to be faced during the future sessions of the consultative group.
Overview of Working Sessions
Session 1: Theology and Ecclesiology
The session was initiated through a presentation of a WCC team member’s perceptions of Pentecostal Theology and Ecclesiology:
The following questions were raised through the presentation:
· Is there a common (unified) Pentecostal Theology?
· How is the process of institutionalization and formalization of the Pentecostal movement affecting the development of Pentecostal Theology?
· What is the integrating dogmatic center of Pentecostal Theology?
· Is it possible to establish a Church (presumably the Pentecostal churches) on a single issue, namely the person and work of the Holy Spirit?
· Is Pentecostalism fulfilling the function of “an addition to and/or correction of” the existing traditional theologies; or is it a new theology with its own structure and overview of theological problems?
· How do the Pentecostal churches reconcile the process of institutionalization with the emphasis on the move and work of the Spirit?
· What is the Pentecostal view on the relationship between Scripture and other forms of revelation?
· What is the relationship between Pneumatology and Christology within Pentecostal Theology?
· Why is the baptism of the Holy Spirit emphasized as a necessity for Christian living?
· Is there indeed a Biblical foundation to view the baptism of the Holy Spirit as a separate event in the life of the believer?
· Do Pentecostals question the legitimacy of other Christian traditions since they practice re-baptizing of converts?
· How do Pentecostal Churches reconcile the congregational form of government with the concept of the unity of the church?
The following concerns about perceptions were raised by Pentecostals in response to the presentation of WCC:
· That “other forms of revelation” and not Scripture are considered as preeminent and foundational in Pentecostal theological reflection.
· That there is no recognition of Pentecostal involvement with social issues flowing from their personal and corporate expressions of the social dimension of holiness.
· That there is not a sense of differentiation between Pentecostal distinctives and foundational doctrines.
· There is a lack of awareness that Pentecostal Pneumatology flows out of a strong commitment to and emphasis on Christology.
· The lack of recognition of the Pentecostal narrative tradition as a legitimate theological method upon which we can base our theological reflection.
· The lack of awareness about the vast diversity of sociological and cultural background present within the Pentecostal movement and its impact on the process of formation of Pentecostal theology.
· The concern that Pentecostals are not perceived as authentic churches by some of the member churches of the WCC, and as reflected by some WCC documents.
The following common concerns were expressed in the process of discussion:
· The need of clarification of terminology
· The need of informational exchange in facilitating clarification of
perceptions of one another.
· At its origins the Pentecostal movement was a renewal movement within the established churches. In the history of the Church, renewal movements have often resulted in divisions and the creation of new churches (e.g., Pentecostalism, Methodism, etc.). We need to reflect more on the relation between renewal and unity.
Session 2: Common Perceptions and Official Statements (from Pentecostal denominations on the issue of perceptions on WCC)
A presentation of written documents and oral statements were given from some North American Pentecostals, expressing some of their common perceptions of WCC :
· WCC has been known to substitute social activity for evangelism while rejecting the authority of Holy Scripture and compromising cardinal teachings regarding the deity of Christ, the universality of sin, and sexual orientation.
· WCC seemed to be a “Communist front” in the 1950s and 1960s.
· WCC is striving to establish itself as a “super church”, which is a prelude to the advent of the era of the antichrist’s rule and a radical departure from the spiritual oneness in Christ.
In the course of discussion following the presentation, Pentecostals raised also the following issues in relation to their perception of WCC:
· WCC is hypocritical in its claims of facilitating Christian unity
· WCC is not committed to a distinctly Christian identity, and many of the member churches are losing their Christian character through their socio-political stands and affiliations.
Members of WCC raised the following concerns with the Pentecostal perceptions of the Council’s nature and purpose:
· The lack of knowledge among Pentecostals about the Toronto Statement of WCC.
· The degree of significance and relevance of the historical church creeds within the life of the Pentecostal movement.
Session 3: Mission and Evangelism
The session included a presentation of the WCC on the main topics within its vision for future focus on mission and evangelism:1) challenge of identities in multi-cultural contexts;2) ministry of healing and reconciliation in a hurting world; 3) alternative communities; 4) development of mission oriented churches.
The following issues were raised in the process of presentation:
· The Pentecostal practice of the charismatic gift of healing, as presenting a challenge to the Historical churches and their theological commitments.
· The process of globalization and the continual exclusion and marginalization of different social and ethnic groups.
· The struggle to enlarge the mission of the church through its societal involvement.
· The urgent need of holistic Theology of Mission.
· The need of renewal in some member churches of WCC, through engagement in mission and active evangelization outreach.
In response to the issue of proselytism the Pentecostals emphasized the following points:
· The Great Commission of the Church to preach the Gospel to all people and to continue the mission of Christ in this world.
· That evangelizing of people of other religions cannot be perceived as proselytism.
· An observation was made that there is a contradiction between the WCC stand on proselytism and its endorsement of the UN declaration on human rights that affirms the freedom of personal choice of religion as an essential human right of all people.
· That we should focus on expounding the Kingdom of God and not our institutions.
· That ethnic geographical, political and cultural boundaries are not identical with denominational boundaries (and can not be presumed as foundational for territorial claims by religious traditions)
The members of WCC made the following points in relation to proselytism:
· Proselytism contradicts the concept of Christian unity
· There is a need in WCC to move beyond the topic of proselytism into their discussions on the mission of the church.
· The issue of proselytism is a sensitive subject among the member churches, which continues to seek its possible resolution.
· The multi-religious context of some of the member churches have faced WCC with the need to dialogue with other non-Christian religions.
· The need of mutual respect in evangelism and coordination of missions as a basis for combined evangelistic effort between the different traditions.
· The WCC acknowledges the right of a person to change his or her church affiliation out of personal conviction and without any proselytizing pressure or manipulation.
Session 4: Spirituality and Worship
A WCC team member offered a presentation of her perceptions of Pentecostal worship based on observing two services attended during the meeting, which articulated observations and reflections on the structure and content of Pentecostal worship. The observations pointed to the Christological emphasis in Pentecostal worship, the anthropological character of its homiletical tradition (and its communal contextual orientation), and to the focus on intercessory prayer as an expression of mutual care and concern for one another. The centrality of the adoration of God and the strong sense of community were emphasized as distinct characteristics of Pentecostal worship. There was no mention of justice and liberation themes in the Pentecostal worship as well as the absence of OT references. The presentation raised the following questions for further discussion:
· What is the place of joined community prayers and reading of Statements of Faith within Pentecostal worship?
· What is the significance of the celebration of Eucharist within the life of the Pentecostal churches?
· Is there an understanding of sacred space in the Pentecostal tradition?
· Is the Pentecostal claim for preaching the Word of God legitimate in view of the interpretational character of its homiletics?
The Pentecostal response emphasized:
· Pentecostal worship is more than informality and spontaneity; there is an order and at some moments (Lord’s Supper) it is formal with creed and Lord’s Prayer. There is structure and continuity in worship.
· The broader cultural and contextual background, which shapes and informs the liturgical diversity within the Pentecostal movement.
· The significance of personal encounter with the divine and experience of God’s presence in Pentecostal worship.
· The Pentecostal understanding that the manifested presence of God (and not architectural norms and formalized settings) identifies and designates the locations of liturgical space.
· The spontaneity in Pentecostal worship in response to the work of the Holy Spirit within the community of faith in the midst of its liturgical celebration and self-expression.
· The significance of the celebration of the Eucharist for the life, spiritual formation and self-understanding of the Pentecostal community.
· The commitment to both the verbal homiletical proclamation of the Word of God, and its incarnation within the Pentecostal community of faith.
· In regards to the issue of creeds, statements of faith are made not only verbally but also by acts of worship and lifestyle.
· The differentiation between Bible study and sermonic presentation within the context of worship, and their recognition as equally vital components within the life of the church.
· The fact that Pentecostal homiletics should consider the entire Bible (both Old and New Testament) as profitable for instruction, exhortation and navigation of the Christian community in the ways of the Lord. Christocentric preaching is preaching of the Spirit who leads to Christ.
· That the Pentecostal worship offers a context within which the voice of each individual worshiper is recognized and heard, thus transcending ethnic, gender, racial and socio-economic differences.
· The recognition of the existence of diverse liturgical traditions and the necessity to deepen our understanding about the various ways of engagement in inclusive liturgical celebration.
· There is a difference between worship and ceremony. There is also adoration in truth and actuality.
· There is a variety and diversity of worship: in Eastern Europe the worship is influenced by Orthodox Christianity.
The following questions were asked by WCC members of the group:
· Why should the Spirit only act in spontaneous utterings and not in the formulas, creeds and prayers from the tradition?
· What is meant by koinonia in the worship? Is it community of the believers or more a meeting for evangelization?
The following topics were suggested for further discussion:
· Issues of contextualization of worship
· Issues of exclusive and. inclusive liturgies
Session 5: Common Perceptions and Official Statements on Pentecostals by WCC Member Churches
Five presentations were brought to the attention of the group by WCC member churches on their perceptions of Pentecostals: Russian Orthodox, Taiwanese Presbyterian, Reformed (from the Netherlands), United Methodist (U.S.A.) and Eastern Orthodox (from two Eastern Orthodox Churches in the United States of America).
The Russian Orthodox reflection focused on the following points:
· The historical context of development of the Pentecostal movement in Belarus; its Christian stand in individual and corporate communal commitment to life in Jesus Christ in the midst of severe persecution by the Communist establishment.
· Positive characteristics of the Pentecostal church fellowships including: the closeness between the members of the community expressed in mutual care and support; the focus on corporate study and reading of the Bible and partaking in the Lord’s Supper; the joyful, eschatological urgency to share about their Christian experience with others; the commitment to humanitarian outreaches to the needy and the destitute; the publication and distribution of the New Testament; the successful work among the youth; the stand on moral and ethical issues in society; the ability to communicate the Gospel in a simple and accessible way; the active social involvement of the Pentecostal churches.
· Concerns were expressed about: various forms of expressions of Pentecostal spirituality which are foreign to Orthodox spirituality: the thirst for visual signs of the presence of God; the absolutizing of doctrines; Holy Scripture is one of the fruits of the tradition of the church and must be interpreted in context; the difference between real actions of the Holy Spirit and acute emotional experiences; and that visual and mental signs are not a guarantee of the action of the Holy Spirit.; various Pentecostal doctrines (e. g. salvation through faith, interpretation of Scripture and tradition) that are unacceptable for the Russian Orthodox Church.
· The understanding that Pentecostalism is not an unprecedented phenomena in the life of Christendom, and that it has been preceded by various other charismatic movements for renewal (within the historical development of Christianity) such as Montanism in the 2nd century.
· The various dimensions of already existing (and possible future) work together of the Russian Orthodox Church and the Pentecostal movement (e.g. the translation of the Bible into the Belarus language, presentations of the movie Jesus, joint work in affirmation of Christian values in society, etc.)
The Taiwanese Presbyterian reflection raised the following critical concerns:
· The indifference of the Pentecostals to issues of social justice.
· Their claim of ownership on authentic Christian spirituality.
· The problematic issues related to authority within the Pentecostal movement (e.g. “the taste of power” within the Taiwanese indigenous context).
· The observation of a co-relation between the spread of Pentecostalism and ethnic identity diffusion among various indigenous people in Taiwan.
· The need of incorporating different forms of and approaches to corporate worship for the sake of meting the contextual needs of the younger generations of Christians (e.g. an alternative second morning worship service)
A member of an Eastern Orthodox Church in the United States of America presented the following statement:
After speaking with two ecumenical leaders of Orthodox churches in the United States, there seems to be little knowledge about Pentecostalism among Orthodox Christians. Often Orthodox Christians are unable to distinguish between Pentecostals, Evangelicals and Charismatics. Also, since Pentecostals are perceived to have a church structure that differs from that of the Orthodox Church, it is difficult to communicate with the leaders of Pentecostal communities. The situation in the United States is such that Pentecostals more often convert to Orthodoxy rather than the opposite. Rarely do Orthodox Christians in the United States convert to Pentecostalism.
A member of the United Methodist Church in the United States’ presented the following report on the subject:
In response to an informal survey, various United Methodist leaders acknowledged considerable ignorance and little contact with Pentecostal communities. Uninformed perceptions saw Pentecostals as emotional, anti-modern and conservative persons who engage in practices such as speaking in tongues and exorcisms. One bishop was far more positive and believed that Pentecostalism’s emphasis upon the Holy Spirit was a marvelous witness to God’s continuing work among all people. He wondered if Pentecostalism today paralleled the Wesleyan tradition’s emphasis upon the Holy Spirit in 19th century United States. The Wesleyan movement prompted social action and moral crusades at that time.
The two reformed churches in the Netherlands (Netherlands Reformed Church and the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands) published in their 1960s pastoral documents about their vision about and attitude to the Pentecostal Movement. The document raised the following issues:
Session 6: Themes and Methodology
The two teams within the Joint Consultative Group spent time dedicated to discussion and reflection among themselves on the issues of methodology and prioritization of topics for the future work of the Group as a whole, after which both teams presented a brief summary of their conclusions and suggestions.
The proposal of the representatives of the WCC member churches included the following suggestions:
The Pentecostal team presented its conclusions and suggestions on methodology and topics for discussion, which included the following points:
- Unity (with attention to the concept of unity of the church made visible vs. the concept of “super church”).
- Social Justice.
- Holy Scripture (with attention to hermeneutics and traditions vs. Traditions).
- Christian experience (definition, content and significance within the individual and corporate dimensions of life).
Within the process of discussing the two proposals, the following concerns were raised:
· The preservation of the sense of equality and adequate representation between all traditions involved in the discussions.
· The preservation of the uniqueness of the Group in relation to methodology.
· The sense of diversion from the adopted Statement of Purpose.
· The need for facilitation of an ongoing process of mutual education and reflection.
· The various problems of contextualization in relation to representation
· The need of awareness of the time consuming process in which we partake as a group and of developing more adequate expectations in relation to its immediate results.
The group discussed the two topics suggested as possible themes for the next meeting: 1) worship, and 2) unity. The worship theme could be related to several theological issues. The question of unity was important for the members of the Pentecostal team. It could be divided into several sub-themes. The WCC material on unity and foundational documents of the Council should be made available and discussed. Worship could be used as a methodology for the reflection on unity. Unity could also be one of several theological issues under the theme of worship.
Some other topics and concerns were mentioned: Holy Scripture as the theme, Bible study and reflection on the Bible as a means of bridging differences in the group, a stronger link between the discussions of the group and the life of the churches, learning about the churches in the country/region where the next meeting would be held.
Another proposal was to work out a programme for the next meeting that would focus on several issues and concerns:
Ø Bible study, aiming at questions of the role of Scripture and hermeneutics;
Ø Worship, linking it with the experience of worship in the local context of the meeting;
Ø Unity, using the opportunity to study and discuss major WCC documents and the developments in ecumenical approaches to unity.
Such a programme could enable the group to continue and deepen the reflection in which it engaged in this second meeting, and strengthen the common base for the study of more specific themes in the future.
Rev. Lee Yo-Han extended an invitation to hold the next meeting in Korea, saying that he had discussed this with the General Secretary of the Korean Assemblies of God. The Korean Methodist Church and the Korean Assemblies of God would jointly host the meeting.
Regarding the dates of the next meeting (in 2002), several suggestions were made. The week beginning September 8, 2002, seemed to suit the majority of the members.
The group asked the small steering group in formation to:
· develop a programme proposal for the next meeting and share it with the members of the group;
· pursue the possibility of responding positively to the invitation from Korea;
· fix the dates of the next meeting;
· take care of all the other preparatory aspects.
Organization of the work
The group decided to form a small ad-hoc steering group of four persons, including the two co-moderators, for the period up to the next meeting.