The Pentecostal movement was born at the turn of the twentieth century. In that same decade, a historic global mission gathering took place, which is known as the Edinburgh Missionary Conference (EMC) of 1910. The former has grown into a massive and often almost chaotic global Christian movement, while the latter gave birth to the modern ecumenical movement, thus, evolving into an ecumenical mission movement. Both are hailed as the two major Spirit movements in the twentieth century, but whether everyone would agree with that opinion is a matter of debate. For the century, in addition to the two Christian ‘mega-movements’, it would be well not to forget that the Catholic Church, the largest of the global Christian family, came through a revolutionary reform called the Vatican II, and this can equally be hailed as an epochal work of the Spirit.
It will also be useful to quickly survey the movements of global Christianity in the last 100 years since the EMC made a firm commitment to complete the ‘evangelisation of the world in this [their] generation’.1
However, the generation after the conference was overshadowed by horrible destruction through two world wars and their aftermath.
The post-war era saw the birth of many nations out of the colonial period. The colonial political grip did not help the missionary aspirations of the western churches at all, and independence and nation-building brooded nationalism, often making the missionary climate more hostile than conducive. The political polarization of the world caused every nation to pick a superpower to align with, and this was how most of the so-called ‘developing nations’ survived in the cruel climate of the cold war era. At the same time, a group of ‘developing’ nations, dissatisfied with the dominant world order, formed a third group of nations of non-alliance. The gospel and modernization, the seemingly winning formula for mission, in general, failed to deliver what the EMC hoped for. Then came the
collapse of Communism and the end of the cold war era. The world, then, was no longer the same.
The rise of churches in the Global South2
(or ‘Southern Church’ in shorthand) has been prophetically declared by Andrew Walls.3
Recently Todd Johnson convincingly argues that Christianity oscillated in every millennium between South and North. In the first millennium, it was a religion of the south of Israel, the birth place of Christianity. Then it made a west and northward move in the second millennium, making it a ‘western’ religion. According to him, from the 1970s, global Christianity again made a southward as well as an eastward, turn making it a ‘southern’ religion again.4
Thus, in our own lifetime, the centre of global Christian gravity has moved to the south. An average world Christian is an African female youth, as now almost 7 out of every 10 world Christians are found in the Global South.
It is not only the numerical redistribution of world Christians, but more importantly a reshaping of the very nature of ‘being Christian’. As Philip Jenkins presented and convincingly argues, Southern Christianity in general, and those initiated by nationals in particular, exhibit radically different religious orientations. Evidently informed by a rich religious environment, Christianity is no longer a set of rational arguments, but something that is taken as a ‘given’ with full awareness of the active spiritual world intimately interfacing with the visible world. As a result, the Bible is read to believe it and to expect to experience the same healings and miracles, and God is expected to ‘speak’ to his people through visions, dreams, voices and the like.5
The net result is that Christianity becomes a live and dynamic experience. This ethos makes a good proportion of Southern Christianity ‘Pentecostal’ although the term is never used in many church groups. The evangelistic and missionary zeal of these emerging churches is but a natural consequence of this type of Christianity, often coupled with voluntary and involuntary displacement of massive numbers of people,
including Christians. This has already changed the landscape of global Christianity and mission.
This also comes with several formidable challenges, and only a few will be outlined here, particularly relevant to Pentecostalism and Pentecostal mission. The first is the ‘religiously fundamental’ orientation, which has also fuelled the exponential growth. With its extremely conservative theology, it replicates a sort of ‘imperialistic’ type of mission engagement, which is all too familiar from the western missionary enterprise. Living mostly in religiously pluralistic environments, where sometimes Christianity is a tiny minority, suspicion and persecution from neighbours leads to a challenging Christian life, as the most number of churches burned by Muslim mobs in Indonesia were Pentecostal. In spite of the validity of martyrdom spirituality, Christians and a local congregation are called on to promote a peaceful community life. This extreme evangelism outlook continues its campaign for the other world, while ignoring the church’s missionary call to ‘this life’ matters.
Equally alarming is a strong leaning towards theology of (this worldly) blessing. Although perfectly understandable considering the immediate felt needs of daily struggles, such a message often is indistinguishable from the western-born, self-centred prosperity gospel and can turn Christianity into another self-serving religion, as many indigenous ones have been. Pentecostal-type Christianity can also create popular religious heroes for their charisma of healings and miracles. By commanding a large group of followers, some leaders’ celebrity lifestyles, in commensurate to the social context of the majority of believers, can further reinforce the consumerist ‘commoditization’ of Christian religion.
The bottom line of these challenges is theological construction. Criticisms like [theologically] ‘mile wide but inch deep’ indicates the need for a serious theological formation, faithful to the scripture and relevant to the context. The regurgitation of western theologians will not serve the Southern church; neither will a theological process to describe or to ‘decently’ present a super-leader’s thoughts point to the future direction of Southern Christianity. It will take a fresh way to read the Bible in its original and our contemporary contexts, and to communicate the message in a way understood and appreciated by the growing churches in the Global South. This will obviously require serious investment in raising up a small number of good theologians. With the increasing awareness of such a need among western church leaders, opportunities are present both in the south and the north. For example, for decades John Stott’s Langham Partnership has been instrumental in encouraging the global church to make this serious investment. Langham scholars are now leading theologians in the south, and their contribution is making impact beyond the southern hemisphere. With growing Christianity and also the economy, resources do not have to come only from the west. Emerging churches are also beginning to pay attention to this critical investment for the future.
During the one-hundred years of the modern Pentecostal-charismatic movement, it has made many impacts on Christianity in general, but its role in mission is extremely significant. The explosive growth of churches, particularly in the non-western continents, is but one example. Various topics on Pentecostalism such as its origin, theological distinctive, various groupings of Pentecostal/charismatic Christianity, and its inherent missionary values and orientation have been studied by theologians as well as social scientists. Also regional studies are increasing, particularly on North America, Europe, Africa and Latin America, but in a lesser degree on Asia and Eastern Europe. The following discussion is not meant to be comprehensive, but to briefly highlight only those that are relevant to Pentecostal mission.
Then who are Pentecostals today? Already the incredible diversity of Pentecostalism is further complicated by the ‘discovery’ of new indigenous groups, as well as the constant ‘evolution’ of the movement. Its neat and clean theological definition was possible only in the first half of the twentieth century, before the advent of the Charismatic movement and the ‘discovery’ of indigenous Pentecostal-like groups, completely unconnected to the North American roots of Pentecostalism. Although the term is often narrowly used to refer to the denominational or ‘classical’ Pentecostal groups, its generic use is increasingly adopted to be interchangeably used with ‘charismatic Christianity’. This then refers to a wide range of Christians who are open to, believe in, and expect the work—particularly a supernatural kind—of the Holy Spirit, often characterized by an emphasis on experiential and emotive dimension of religious life. The outward expression of such a value includes vibrant and participatory worship, commitment to prayer for God’s direct intervention to human needs, zealousness for evangelism, and the like. This form of Christianity tends to attract the marginalized and the poor in society. As the religion of the poor, Pentecostalism has brought an empowering effect to masses who are socially and even eccelestically marginalized.
The profile of an average global Pentecostal or charismatic believer is perhaps a female African youth. This fastest-growing segment of global Christianity is extremely difficult to broadly classify. Until now, three divisions have been commonly used: classical (or denominational) Pentecostals, Charismatic (or Neo-) Pentecostals, and indigenous (or Neo-Charismatic) Pentecostals. Although the first category remains relatively unchanged, the second group has been significantly altered by the addition of independent congregations who do not identify themselves with classical Pentecostals, to the traditional Pentecostal Christians found within established churches. With the increase of evangelically oriented congregations and their networks, the landscape of this group is changing and will continue to change. The last category has been particularly problematic, because of its fluidity and diversity, the ‘discovery’ of new groups, and also because of some groups that appear to be ‘more Pentecostal but less
Christian’. The ‘new discovery’ includes the majority of the African Initiated churches and Chinese house church networks. What is agreed by many are: 1) The character of global Pentecostal Christianity will be increasingly less western, but more Asian, African and Latin American; and 2) The growth of Pentecostal Christianity is, therefore, ‘messy’ and yet dynamic, and this chaotic situation is expected to continue in the coming generations.
Equally impossible in this limited space is a discussion on mission and its contemporary issues. A short discussion then is only in the area concerning Pentecostal mission.
What is mission? This is the subject of detailed discussion by important mission scholars today.6
For Pentecostals how mission is understood is better seen in their mission practices. Mission is predominantly perceived as ‘soul winning’. Two major influences have shaped this. The first is the general evangelical perception of mission such as the North American Holiness movement. The second is eschatological urgency, which was closely linked with the evangelization of the whole world (Matt. 24:14). All other activities such as Bible school ministry, caring for children or relief work (which is sometimes called ‘mercy ministry’) are to contribute to evangelism and church planting.
This narrowly focused notion of mission is well in line with the general evangelical understanding and practice of mission. One can say that the strong impetus for this understanding is rooted in what is called the Great Commission:
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age (Matt. 28:19-20).7
However, there has been growing signs of a broader and more holistic understanding of mission. Again, this has to do, in part, with the development of evangelical mission, particularly from the creation of the Lausanne movement from 1974. The Lausanne Covenant broke a theological ground making social service one of the two ‘pillars of mission’, along with traditional evangelism. Some Pentecostal churches, called ‘progressive Pentecostals’ are more intentional in making social service a serious part of their mission work. In addition to the shift in evangelical mission scope, the rise of new mission players from the Global South has also played an important role. The social context of the ‘developing’ societies requires Christians to take social issues into their
mission thinking, such as poverty, health issues (HIV/AIDS, etc), women and children, education, etc.
The biblical base for this broader understanding may be found in John 17:18: ‘As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world’. According to this model of mission, the move from God’s kingdom (or church) toward the world itself is an act of mission. In spite of a danger of making ‘everything mission, thus, nothing mission’ according to some critics,8
this model provides an important ground for a broader understanding of mission. According to this model, every issue that society wrestles with is a mission agenda, be it corruption, poverty, or racial conflict. This argument also makes the proposition that the very existence of a church is important in society, even if Christianity is only a tiny minority. This public role of the gospel is an integral part of Christian mission. The vision of Pentecostal mission, however, must go beyond caring for the needy and poor, and this will be further elaborated below.
Towards Pentecostal Missiology
The book intends to present reflections both from biblical/theological and contextual fronts, with the hope to contribute towards the making of a Pentecostal missiology. Here Pentecostalism is taken more generically, or as an umbrella word for the wide range of worldwide charismatic Christianity. As discussed above, mission is also taken beyond evangelism. The chapter on missio...