by L. Grant McClung, Jr.
North American and European Pentecostals need to recognize when God is doing in the world and work toward international cooperation.
This is a call to my fellow North American and European Pentecostal brethren. We need to look at the new realities in global Pente-costalism, find ways to incorporate the necessary resources from our worldwide communion, and responsibly formulate needed resolutions (in word and deed) to advance our organic interdependence. Neither “dependence” nor “independence” expresses the biblical model. The key word for our time is “interdependence.” This involves the mutual and reciprocal dependence upon one another as equal partners and co-laborers in the international Body of Christ.
NEW REALITIES: THE ARRIVAL OF THE "THIRD CHURCH"
Of course, there is only one universal church—“one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Eph. 4:4-6). The last 2,000 years of international expansion, however, have unfolded various eras and areas of geographical strength in the Christian movement. The vitality of Christianity (an eastern religion) has moved progressively from the East to the North to the West, and now to the Southern Hemisphere.
The “third church” is the language of missiologist Walbert Buhlmann. The “first church,” characterized in the arch of the expansion and influence from Jerusalem to Rome, was predominantly eastern for the first millennium. Over the next thousand years, the “second church,” the Western, prevailed from Rome northward to Central Europe and then outward to European colonies in North and South America, Africa, and Southeast Asia. Now we have entered the third millennium and the “third church” of the Southern Hemisphere.1 Concurrent with Buhlmann, University of Aberdeen Professor Andrew F. Walls was speaking in 1976 of “a complete change in the centre of gravity of Christianity, so that the heartlands of the Church are no longer in Europe, decreasingly in North America, but in Latin America, in certain parts of Asia, and…in Africa.”2 In the 17 years since, many commentators have begun to speak of “the southernization of Christianity.”
The “third church” is generally identified geographically with the “Third World,” which includes the continents of Latin America, Africa, and Asia, including Oceania. It is here (with roughly two-thirds of the world’s population and land mass) where our Pentecostal/charismatic family has its greatest assets (in spiritual, if not economic, capital) with 66 percent of its 351 million adherents.
Researcher David Barrett, editor of the prestigious World Christian Encyclopedia, and his international research network have found that the combined 351 million member Pentecostal/charismatic family comes in 38 major categories, 11,000 Pentecostal denominations, and 3,000 independent charismatic denominations spread across 8,000 ethnolinguistic cultures and 7,000 languages. This overall movement is increasing by 54,000 new members per day and 19 million members per year. It is active in 80 percent of the world’s 3,300 large metropolises.3
Buhlmann makes a very positive projection from this new reality:
In the course of the third millennium—who knows? — a church historian may compare the eastern church to the morning star, silent, glittering, ever full of hope, the western church to the moon which, after a night almost as luminous as the day, is now growing dim and the Third Church to the sun, newly risen on the horizon, ruling the day.4
Most American Christian leaders, formed in a culture that has led the world as the ranking superpower in this century (now more prominent with the demise of Soviet Marxism) would probably find the language of “growing dim” versus “ruling the day” threatening or offensive. Many American Pentecostals, for example, would not be aware that 75 percent of the Church of God (Cleveland, Tenn.) membership (and 88 percent in the Assemblies of God) is living outside the U.S. and Canada. Most likely,thiswould also be surprising news for the average European Pentecostal.
This “hidden majority” is another world away for most American andEuropeanPentecostals. In North America, for example (especially since World War II), we are now, with the exception of urban ethnic Pentecostalism, largely typified as rural or suburban middle-class (also true of North American charismatics). In Europe, middle class Pentecostals and charismatics seem to have a growing distance between themselves and the poor. As a stark contrast, Barrett’s cross section of worldwide Pentecostalism reveals a composite “international Pentecostal/Charismatic” who is more urban than rural, more female than male, more Third World (66 percent) than Western world, more impoverished (87 percent) than affluent, more family oriented than individualistic, and, on the average younger than 18.5
To put all this in the historical context, there are many similarities between the founders and early leaders of American Pentecostalism and Barrett’s “international composite Pentecostal.”
Though writing out of a subjective “social deprivation” theory for the origins of American Pentecostalism, Robert Mapes Anderson is helpful at this point. His Ph.D. dissertation (1969) was published in 1979 as Vision of The Disinherited: The Making of American Pentecostalism. From diaries, memoirs, autobiographies, and informal writings, Anderson put together descriptive profiles of some 45 Pentecostals before 1914, most of them before 1909. As a composite, they were generally young, rural, impoverished, and poorly educated. The age category is interesting:
The Pentecostal leaders were young. More than a third of the sample joined the movement before reaching the age of thirty, more than two thirds before forty. During the movement’s initial thrust in the years between 1906 and 1912, most of them ranged in age from the mid-twenties to the early forties. Aimee Semple McPherson was an eighteen-year-old bride when she went to China as a Pentecostal missionary, and was making national headlines while still in her twenties. Howard Goss joined in the work with Parham (who was then twenty-nine) at the age of nineteen, was a recognized leader of the Apostolic Faith movement in the Lower Midwest in his early twenties, and the prime mover in creating the Assemblies of God at the age of twenty-eight…Goss said of the workers in those early days, “90% of us were so very young.”6
What becomes disturbing with a backward look (Anderson’s description) and a forward projection (based upon new Third World realities in Pentecostalism as revealed by Barrett) is that we North American middle-class Pentecostals are neither really at home with our past nor our future. We are in a “chronological parenthesis.” With more careful analysis, I suspect the same could be said for the European situation today (excluding Eastern Europe, of course).
To use a familiar analogy, many of us in North American and European Pentecostalism see ourselves as the full-grown trunk (stability, strength, support base) that has grown from our 19th-century holiness roots. We would probably label the “mission colonies” we have established around the world as the fruit-bearing branches that have sprouted from the “real” tree — the trunk.
But in practice we have treated this organic growth as if it were merely organizational, so we have been frustrated in our efforts to move toward true globalization and international interdependence. We have tried to understand the organic church (cf. Paul’s metaphors of a tree, Rom. 11:13-24, and a human body, 1 Cor. 12:12-31) in terms of an organizational church using images from a technological model of modern corporate management. But as the older European and North American Pentecostal bodies have grown into different regions and countries, we must recognize that this growth has not been a matter of opening up new regional offices, adding additional bank branches, or building new rooms onto the house. These are organizational, economic, structural models, notholistic,organic models.
It would be more realistic to see global Pentecostalism as having a common trunk and the various regional expressions(North Americaand Europe included) as being the branches. Jesus, the same Baptizer in the Holy Ghost for the Pentecostal reality in all regions, is the only vine (trunk), and the various regional and national church movements are the branches (John 15).
NECESSARY RESOURCES: ACKNOWLEDGING GLOBAL RICHES
In terms of resources, most of the communication in the 100-year history of modern Pentecostalism has flowed from the Northern to the Southern Hemisphere. That day is now gone and a new reality has come. A theology (belief) and a theopraxy (action) of interdependence would lead to a more healthy ingrafting of “third church” resources into the older movements. Pentecostals outside Europe and North America (and their connected ethnic families in the Northern Hemisphere) have historical, theological, missiological, and leadership richness to offer. They have common roots in the same tree.
We need the doctrinal leadership of Third World leaders, scholars, and pastors who not only grapple with the American and European exported doctrinal heresies (areas such as extreme faith and prosperity, kingdom now, New Age, etc.), but also address life and death issues from their own regions. An underlying truth to this whole area of acknowledging the theological contributions from all arenas of faith around the world must be stated in a maxim: We have something to learn about theology from the Third World. I wonder if this is seriously believed by North American and European Pentecostals.
True globalization and a theology of interdependence are a two-way street. This means the communication must also flow from the Southern Hemisphere to the North. Three outstanding books are indispensable for those who really want to move the church in this direction: William A. Dyrness, Learning About Theology From the Third World (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan Publishing House, 1990); Robert McAfee Brown, Unexpected News: Reading The Bible With Third World Eyes (Philadelphia, Pa.: Westminster Press, 1984); and Kosuke Koyama, Water Buffalo Theology (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1974).
We have something to learn from how our laity, pastors, and teachers struggle with liberation theology in Latin America, where socioeconomic and political issues cannot remain separate from the faith. Our South African brethren must take the lead in discerning the biblical nature of the church and the demands of discipleship over against apartheid. Our people in Holland must help us with the integration of faith and science out of a context where euthanasia (“mercy killing”) is practiced. Our brethren in Eastern Europe have addressed Christian ethics under totalitarianism for years. Christians in Africa are challenged by animistic religions of power and questions of ancestor worship (which is also common in the Far East).
Asian Pentecostals are a minority in a sea of non-Christian religions that are increasingly intolerant and aggressively missionary. Surely we could learn something about relating to Muslim ideology from Pentecostals in Indonesia (the fifth most populated nation on earth and the largest Muslim country in the world). Surely Europeans must learn from Indonesians, since Europe now has more than 30 million Muslim residents, and certainly Americans must learn from them since there are now more Muslims than Presbyterians in the United States (more than 3 million). Let’s globalize the doctrinal process and ask Asian Indian Pentecostals to help us with the New Age Movement (reworked Hinduism customized for a European and American audience). Let’s get Asian, African, and Latin American pastors and evangelists on our Bible conference and retreat programs to talk to us about spiritual warfare, signs and wonders, and “power evangelism.” Let’s continue to encourage faculty exchanges with the “third church” to learn about theology through Third World eyes. Let’s call for the aggressivemissionary evangelistsfrom the burgeoning Third World Pentecostal churches to “come over to Macedonia and help us.”
Dyrness argues that the interconnectednessof the modernworld insures that issues challenging the church today—technology, medical ethics, secularism, feminism, the environment, the arms race, international indebtedness, urban deterioration, AIDS, drugs, the decline of the traditional family—are intercultural, international issues that cannot be properly addressed in isolation or from a parochial point of view:
All of this suggests that any theology today that claims to be comprehensive must result from an interchange between theologians from many different settings and representing many different points of view. Those of us who take the authority of Scripture seriously would add that only through such interchange will the full truth of Scripture be seen.7
NEEDED RESOLUTIONS: ADVANCING INTERDEPENDENCE IN GLOBAL PENTECOSTALISM
“Resolutions” should not only be understood to mean written responses that are given “rubber stamp” assent in international Pentecostal gatherings. These make for interesting reading in our denominational magazines, but they may not bring about change. “Resolutions” should be understood in the spirit of proactively resolving to do something—a call to action. The readers of this article are in positions to enact change in our church structures—by executive appointment, by creation of new ministry possibilities, by group consensus with councils toward funding, by creative ideas given to general boards and committees, by influencing other decision-makers in church leadership. Let us move toward continued partnership and interdependence in the global Pentecostal community and show our organic unity in Christ.
1. Walbert Buhlmann, The Coming of the Third Church: An Analysis of the Present and Future of the Church (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1977), p. 24.
2. Andrew F. Walls, “Towards an Understanding of Africa’s Place in Christian History,” Religion in a Pluralistic Society, J. S. Pobee, editor (Leiden: Brill, 1976), p. 180.
3. David B. Barrett, “Statistics, Global,” Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements, Stanley M. Burgess and Gary B. McGee, editors (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan Publishing House, 1988), p. 811.
4. Buhlmann, op. cit., p. 24.
5. Barrett, ibid.
6. Robert Mapes Anderson, Vision of the Disinherited: The Making of American Pentecostalism (New York: Oxford University Press, 1979), pp. 98-113.
7. William A. Dyrness, Learning About Theology From the Third World (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan Publishing House, 1990), p. 20.
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