While it is true that Pentecostalism is growing, it is doubtful whether their social engagement is increasing in proportion as claimed by Miller and Yamamori in their book Global Pentecostalism: The New Face Of Christian Social Engagement. I found myself floundering a bit in my attempt to identify the central thesis that Miller and Yamamori after their extensive research are trying to put forward. That Pentecostal churches are growing all over the world and that the strength of Christianity has shifted to the global south to Africa, Latin America and Asia is a proven reality. The extensive research and study that they have done including the ground covered is certainly commendable. Further their work clears the air as regards a lot of misunderstanding and prejudice against Pentecostalism. However their thesis in this particular case is fragile.
A closer look at several of the social ministries that Miller and Yamamori site in their book are those started by dynamic and visionary individuals as a response to needs that have touched their hearts. They have been supported in their cause by Pentecostal churches and individuals who would claim allegiance to Pentecostalism. It cannot be argued that this is a theological response to social need necessarily from a Pentecostal standpoint. Clearly several of these leaders are supported by non Pentecostals as well.
What would determine the increase of social engagement of the Pentecostals is the commitment to and social engagement of local Pentecostal churches as part of their life, ministry. Regardless of the contexts, it has to be their response based on Faith and Theology. This is the benchmark not only for the Pentecostals but of any church or any individual Christian.
Further, the indigenous church worldwide, especially in the global south is experiencing a phenomenal growth. Roger Hedlund from his study and research points out that these indigenous movements are from among people of ‘little traditions’ and ‘fringe sections’ (Hedlund 2000, 3). They are attracted to the freedom and liberty that the Gospel brings. Their new Christian faith is expressed in local cultural forms that resemble the patterns of the New Testament Church in both form and function. They do not fall within the narrow confines of Pentecostalism in that sense. They are part of a new wave that is sweeping across the nations.
While they may not essentially be Pentecostal or charismatic according to early definitions, they tend to get categorized as Pentecostal on account of their free and unstructured local expressions of worship, form and function. Interestingly Miller seems to substantiate this theory: “Neo-Pentecostals, as we have seen, are often the first people to incorporate aspects of contemporary culture into their worship and managerial style. It is the mainline churches that seem to be in a time warp, singing the same old songs, following the same old liturgy, and working in ossified bureaucratic structures.” (MILLER Donald E. 2007, 211)
The words Pentecostal and Charismatic are not as definitive now as in the past. The Pentecostal movement was clearly identified with ‘glossalalia’ – the speaking of tongues and the Charismatic movement with the ‘charismata’ – the exercise of the spiritual gifts. Pentecostalism as we come to understand from Miller and Yamamori have broken out of such traditional narrow definitions to broader descriptions that include most of the rapidly increasing non-traditional churches as compared to the so called mainline structured churches. I lift up my hands and praise the Lord when I worship and intentionally nurture and exercise my spiritual gifts; but I have not been endowed with the gift of tongues. Who am I?
Whether it is named, Neo, Progressive, Popular or Contemporary, does Pentecostalism have resemblance to the reformation movement? Could it be seen as a new reformation movement radically taking the Church back to its New Testament Roots, both from a spiritual as well as a social standpoint?
Hedlund, Roger E. The Quest For Identity – India’s Churches of Indigenous Origin. New Delhi: ISPCK, 2000.
MILLER Donald E., YAMAMORI Tetsunao. Global Pentecostalism: The New Face Of Christian Social Engagement. Los Angeles: University of Los Angeles Press, 2007.