Global Pentecostalism: The New Face of Christian Social Engagement
When I was in Cape Town, South Africa last week, I heard a church leader mention the growth of the Pentecostal church. This surprised me, although my perception of his comment was based on my limited American view of what a Pentecostal church is. Authors Miller and Yamamori dispel stereotypes surrounding Global Pentecostalism in their book, Global Pentecostalism: The New Face of Christian Social Engagement. They argue that Pentecostals often feel “called” to social work or social justice projects by the Holy Spirit, and that Spirit-filled worship is in the heart of the emerging Pentecostal movement.
Global Pentecostalism is a fast growing religious movement in the world today. It is centered on the work of the Holy Spirit. Meaning, the Holy Spirit is moving people to make a difference in their communities, contributing to upward social mobility. Although the movement has roots in America, its growth has been mainly non-western. It is particularly attractive to poor and working classes. Many claim the church has a more holistic approach, and the Protestant church lacks emphasis on the power of the Holy Spirit.
Thinking back to my own experiences with the Pentecostals, I am very hesitant and cautious in my review and assessment of the work being done. I have had many friends hurt by the legalism, dangerous charismatic views, and other practices of the movement. It is evident that the movement is spurring much needed social reform within the church, as a whole. However, I am concerned that there is so much focus on works and spiritual encounters that long-term discipleship and theological education is often overlooked and ignored. Could this allow leaders to do what they want based on their biased views? Could it open the door for widespread abuse of power? I’ve seen, firsthand, the destruction that can be caused in the lives of individuals “in the name of the Holy Spirit”. Affections or emotions play a big part of the Pentecostal experience. There is much emphasis placed on the gifts of the Spirit. However, when we react on emotions alone, there is inherent risk.
I worry that millions are jumping on the Pentecostal bandwagon because it feels good and seems to be the right thing to do. While it is true that emotional and physical needs are being met through the work of Pentecostal movement, the authors did not show proof that the movement is discipling their followers into deep and broad Biblical knowledge. While I feel that the Western and mainstream Christian churches may have swung the conservative pendulum too far to the right, I question if this Pentecostal movement is too far to the left. Even though the movement is doing great work and many are turning to Christ, I wonder if the boat is moving so fast that the people in the wake are getting lost. The emphasis on visions, dreams, and spiritual power is often attractive to people who are living in difficult situations. The general message of Pentecostalism spurs hope, and gives power to the powerless. It makes people happy. The authors noted that social change is often done via partnering with non-Pentecostal organizations. In some cases social services are provided to proselytize, while in other cases they are given freely with no expected return.
I appreciate the author’s acknowledgement of the role of worship in affecting social change. We often overlook the work of the Spirit, and ignore His leading. It is the transforming power of the Holy Spirit that changes hearts and calls people to live out their faith through action. However, immediate action doesn’t always equate to transforming faith or lives for the long term. It is through discipleship and daily devotion with Christ that leads and sustains a heartfelt change.
 Donald E. Miller and Tetsunao Tamamori, Global Pentecostalism: The New Face of Christian Social Engagement (University of California Press: Berkeley, CA, 2007).