In the Power of the Spirit by Dennis A. Smith and B.F. Gutierrez (eds.)
Dennis Smith is a mission worker for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and works as general coordinator of the Latin American Evangelical Center for Pastoral Studies (CELEP). He has lived and worked in Latin America since 1978 and now lives in Guatemala City with his wife and two children. EM>THE POWER OF THE SPIRIT, was edited by Benjamin F. Gutierrez & Dennis A. Smith It was published in 1996 by the Presbyterian Church (USA) and AIPRAL/CELEP, and translated by Peter Kemmerle. All rights reserved. Permission to use this material has been granted by the editors. This book was prepared for Religion Online by Ted & Winnie Brock.
Introduction, by Benjamin F. Gutierrez
Benjamin Gutiérez, a pastor in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), was a mission worker in Ecuador and Mexico. For the last 22 years he has been responsible for Presbyterian Church (USA) relationships with Latin America and the Caribbean, and since 1988, he has been area coordinator for South America. This introductory chapter appeared in In the Power of the Spirit, edited by Benjamin F. Gutierrez & Dennis A. Smith, published in 1996 by PC(USA)WMD AIPRAL/CELEP, pp. 9-25.
When a delegation from the United Presbyterian Church of the United States visited Brazil in 1977, we had the opportunity to have a long interview with the missionary Manoel de Mello, now deceased, who was the founder and president of the Brazil for Christ Church, one of the largest Pentecostal denominations in the country.
At that time, the military junta which ruled the country did not permit citizens to express themselves freely. Referring to this situation, de Mello said there were three places where the people could unburden themselves freely, without fear of reprisals: at the soccer stadiums, in carnival, and in the Pentecostal churches. His remarks helped us to understand the context of Pentecostalism in Brazil, and explained how and why the Pentecostal movement had spread so far, and in such an extraordinary way, not only in Brazil but in all Latin American countries.
Though de Mello's prediction about the phenomenal growth of Latin American Pentecostalism seemed interesting and convincing, I had the impression it was also a little exaggerated. At that time, I had just finished a study of Ecclesial Base Communities (CEBs), and I understood their importance and that of the theology of liberation in the Catholic Church. Few scholars at that time were studying, analyzing, and evaluating the importance of the Pentecostal movement.
Why publish this book?
During a period of study as the Area Coordinator for South America of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), I decided to write about Latin American Pentecostalism for readers in the United States. When I visited churches in several cities in the United States I found that there was a general interest in the issue. Later, some colleagues in Presbyterian and Reformed churches in Latin America urged me to include interested readers in Latin America.
The support and interest to carry out the project--from AIPRAL (the Association of Reformed and Presbyterian Churches) and from staff of CELEP (Latin American Evangelical Center for Pastoral Studies)--was determinant in my decision to continue with plans for the publication of this book. The task was directed by AIPRAL's Committee on Theology, headed by Dr. Abel Clemente, who is also president of AIPRAL. CELEP's expertise on pastoral matters has given the project another dimension. Since then, I have contacted a team of writers, advisors, and translators who have worked hard on this enterprise.
From the beginning I realized that the proposal was not only large and complex, but that there were a considerable number of people studying the theme who were disposed to collaborate in the publication of the book. A group of 17 historians, theologians, and sociologists of religion were invited to write articles on specific topics. It was decided to publish the book first in Spanish and Portuguese and later in English. The following countries are represented in this study, either by nationality or residence of the writer, or in the theme studied: Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico, Peru, the United States, and Venezuela.
We have several purposes for publishing this book, starting with the need to learn about elements of the history, sociology, and theology of the different kinds of Pentecostalism in Latin America. By learning about the Pentecostals, we can challenge the historic churches to improve their pastoral work. It is important to note that Pentecostalism was one of the issues that attracted most interest in the discussions of the conferences sponsored by AIPRAL and CANAAC (Caribbean and North American Area Council) held in Puerto Rico in April 1994.
The fact that charismatic and Pentecostal movements exist in historic churches was another important reason why AIPRAL supported this project. For example, the Independent Presbyterian Church of Brazil recently did a study about the charismatic groups in its churches, and it was thought that this study could help us to discuss the issue openly in other churches.
In addition, the Seventh Assembly of the World Council of Churches held in Canberra in February 1991 reflected on the charismatic and Pentecostal movements within the historic churches. The official report from Canberra included the following observations:
In this century the world has witnessed the rise and growth of movements which emphasize the Holy Spirit and the gifts of the Holy Spirit. While these movements and churches are by no means uniform, they are commonly known as charismatic or Pentecostal.
Insofar as they emphasize the charisms of the Spirit described in the New Testament and represent a rediscovery of the ministry of healing, they are valid expressions of Christian living. 1
In publishing this book we recognize the importance of learning from Pentecostals, but at the same time we take into the account the contributions the historic churches can make to Pentecostal churches. Thus, not only do we emphasize the positive and attractive aspects of the Pentecostal churches, but we also note questionable areas and those where there are differences of opinion.
Another of the purposes of this book is to challenge ourselves to learn from one another mutually as Christians, and our interpretation of it will depend on how we understand the work of evangelization and mission. If we only see competition and rivalry between us, where one group's gain is the other's loss, then lessening the distance between churches is not worth the trouble. If, on the other hand, as Manuel Ossa says, "the main prerequisite is permeability of the borders," then it is important to exchange ideas and keep up dialogue. Explaining his thought at greater length, Ossa says, "there is no place for a religion that tries to impose, only for a religion (or several) which tries to serve; no place for a religion that possesses the truth, only for one which looks for meaning with all those who look for meaning; no place for one which tries to ingratiate itself with political power, only for one which works with others in solidarity."2
A "threat" to the Roman Catholic Church?
During the 1970s and 80s, many thought that the theology of liberation would strengthen the Catholic Church through the grassroot movement of the CEBs, and that the CEBs, in turn, would raise the consciousness of the popular classes, bringing about serious social change. These expectations were not fulfilled due not only to repression of the ideas and actions of progessive Catholic sectors by the ecclesiastical hierarchy, but also to disinterest on the part of many Catholics.
The present Latin American panorama shows that radical changes have occurred. In Brazil, where the theology of liberation and the CEBs were strongest, a recent study concluded that "the rapid expansion of Pentecostalism is probably the most important phenomenon on the religious scene in Brazil, and perhaps in all of Latin America.3
In this same study, the researchers of the Institute for Religious Studies (ISER) in Rio de janeiro found that in metropolitan Rio, 710 new churches were founded between 1990 and 1992, the equivalent of five churches every week. The majority were Pentecostal churches; although Presbyterian and Baptist churches keep growing, most growth is in the Pentecostal churches.
The dazzling growth of the Pentecostal movement has caused concern in the historic churches. Some 42% of all Roman Catholics live in Latin America, considered the world's "most Catholic" region. And yet, according to Franz Damen, a Catholic missionary from Belgium who works in Bolivia, "every hour an average of 400 Catholics become members of Pentecostal sects." 4
Edward L. Cleary, a Catholic priest, says that "for every Catholic actively practicing his or her religion, in many countries an equal or larger number of Latin Americans participate in some other form of religion,"5 and Brazilian archbishop Lucas Moreira Neves, Secretary of the National Conference of Brazilian Bishops in 1985, taking into account all these events, has roundly affirmed that "The springtime of the sects could also be the winter of the Catholic Church."6 For the first time, it is evident that a religious movement is openly and powerfully challenging the hegemony of the Latin American Catholic Church.
One of the phenomena most difficult for the Catholic Church to understand, as Gilfeather O'Brien points out, is how the Guatemalan cofradias (religious fratemities based on the syncretism of Roman Catholic and ancient Mayan teachings) have been unable to compete with Pentecostal groups that offer "personal transformation of the kind the Catholic Church has desired but never achieved over the centuries." 7
The Pentecostal theologian Juan Sepulveda writes, "Many are particularly surprised by the rapid growth of Pentecostalism in Latin America, a continent that until 1910--the year of the Edinburgh conference--was considered, especially by European Protestants, to be an area already evangelized by the Catholic Church." 8
When we had the interview with Manoel de Mello, the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God still did not exist. In that year, Edir Macedo de Bezerra began to preach to a few people. Now, 20 years later, his denomination (though it has no official membership) has approximately a million and a half members and the same quantity of sympathizers, who meet in 2,000 temples and who can easily fill Maracará, the huge soccer stadium in Rio de Janeiro, for special services. This same church has bought a television network for 45 million dollars, has 22 radio stations, and publishes a magazine with a weekly run of 800,000 copies. The church has established temples in several countries in Europe, Africa and North America, including the United States.
A challenge for the historic Protestant churches.
Pentecostalism is not only a challenge to the Roman Catholic Church. Quentin I. Schultze suggests that the title of the famous book by David Stoll, Is Latin America Turning Protestant? could have been Is Latin America Turning Pentecostal? 9
Though it is impossible to know how many Pentecostals are in Latin America, there is a consensus among scholars that they make up between 70% and 80% of the evangelicals, which number in the tens of millions. Scholars also characterize Pentecostalism as the fourth wave of Protestantism to arrive in Latin America.
The first wave was made up of the immigrant churches. Some Latin American politicians, seeing Northern Europeans and North Americans as being agents of modernization in the area, welcomed Protestant immigration and investment. (In current usage in Latin America, the terms evangelical and Protestant are practically synonymous, although evangelical is most commonly used to refer to all non-Catholic Christians while Protestant is usually used to refer to the historic Reformed churches.) These leaders proposed liberal economies based on free markets and private investment, as opposed to the tightly regulated semi-feudal models of the day. Liberal politicians also advocated a secular and autonomous educational system, not controlled by the Catholic hierarchy.
Christian Lalive d'Epinay underscores the following characteristics of the immigrant churches:
1) An "ethnic church" is directed toward a religious-ethnic group of immigrants.
2) Ethnic churches tend to have a series of common traits: they emphasize order in cultural life, have an open interpretation of biblical inspiration, require the pastorate to have a high level of education, and are organized on formal, representative, democratic models. 10
Taking into account the previous description, the fundamental aspect of the immigrant churches is the identity of the immigrants. These churches strive to maintain the values of the immigrant culture, deriving their function and identity from the ethnic groups which make them up. An example of this is the greeting that the Presbyterian Church of Scotland sent in 1929 to the Saint Andrew's Scottish Presbyterian Church in Buenos Aires, on the occasion of its centennial celebration:
We are well aware of your story: how for all these years you have held high in the Argentine, alike in doctrine, in worship, and in life, "the faith that was once for all delivered unto the saints", and also the best traditions of the Church of Scotland: and how St. Andrew's has been the spiritual home of tens of thousands of Scottish folk who in the characteristic spirit of enterprise found their several ways there. We know St. Andrew's has kept alive the fires of Scottish Patriotism and Religion in your distant land, and in particular how much our Scottish youth owe to the Christian friendship and hospitality of your people. And we have noted with the utmost satisfaction how instant and constant St. Andrew's has been to extend the blessings of Word and Worship to Scottish folk who were scattered abroad through the vast province.. ." [emphasis added]
While the first wave of Protestants consisted mostly of Europeans, the second was made up mainly of missionaries from the United States. The first wave of immigrant churches was generally accepted and welcomed, achieving varying degrees of integration into Latin American society. In the second wave, however, Liberal Latin American governments took more initiative, inviting some missionaries to participate directly in education, encouraging them to propagate the Protestant ideals of hard work and a disciplined life.
A typical case was that of Domingo F. Sarmiento in Argentina, who in 1869-70 invited for the first time a group of Protestant teachers from the United States for the purpose of introducing new educational systems throughout the country.
Another illustrative case was the visit of Guatemalan President Justo Rufino Barrios to the headquarters of the Presbyterian Church in New York in 1882. He returned to Guatemala accompanied by the first Protestant missionary, the Rev. John Clark Hill. Barrios awarded the Presbyterians a site on Guatemala City's main plaza to build Central Presbyterian Church. One of Hill's first projects was to create the American School.
While the principal function of the immigrant churches was to preserve the ethnic and cultural identity of the immigrants, the main purpose of the mission churches, resulting from agreements negotiated by and with churches in the United States, was not to serve communities of U.S. citizens in the region, but to plant churches among the local inhabitants.
The third wave was of the so-called "faith missions." Some Christians who disagreed with the evangelistic strategies of the historic Protestant churches found a way to do missionary work through interdenominational societies, such as the Central American Mission, the Christian and Missionary Alliance, and the Evangelical Union of South America. The wave had its greatest impact after World War II.
The fourth wave is identified with the dazzling growth and influence of the Pentecostals. This wave includes both missionary and indigenous Pentecostal churches. Missionary Pentecostalism includes the efforts of U.S. denominations like the Assemblies of God, as well as missions from Sweden and other European countries. The indigenous Pentecostal churches were the fruit of work by Latin American pastors and lay people, for example, the Methodist Pentecostal Church in Chile and the Brazil for Christ Church, as well as other autonomous groups characterized by their emphases on divine healing and prosperity. It is this fourth wave that is the central focus of this book.
Why is Pentecostalism so attractive to the Latin American people?
The extraordinary growth of the Pentecostal churches has posed a question for many scholars of the sociology of religion. Although there are many ways to explain it, three basic theories have been proposed.
The sociological perspective
The sociological perspective suggests that the success of the Pentecostal movement is a response to the structural changes in contemporary Latin American society. Emilio Willems, a sociologist from the United States, sees the growth of Pentecostalism as a reaction to the pressures for survival and social ascent that have accompanied modernization. Progress and modernization of society imply a new division and organization of labor as well as greater complexity of social institutions. Edward L. Cleary explains, "Instead of the tribal chief acting as family, political and religious ruler, those three functions have been separated and taken over by individuals and groups within family systems, political parties, and religious organizations"12
Christian Lalive d'Epinay proposed a similar sociological argument explaining the growth of Pentecostalism as a function of the social, political, and economic crisis in Latin America produced by the rapid urbanization of traditional rural peoples. In a situation of such radical change, Pentecostal churches help to restore the community values of the lost rural world. Thus, they help enable people to respond to the challenges and demands of the modern world.
These two non-religious theories characterize the Pentecostal community as the "refuge of the masses." This phrase, attributed to Lalive d'Epinay, describes the non-participatory attitude (called a "social strike") which has characterized the Pentecostal movement. This focus implicitly stigmatizes Pentecostals for their alienation from society.
In general, scholars who approach this phenomenon from a sociological perspective claim that Latin American Pentecostals have been intensely attracted to a religion which was created and shaped as a concrete response to the crises and transformations in all arenas of life which have uprooted and bewildered people living in a context of economic and social instability.
The psychological perspective
In response to the notable growth of Pentecostalism and its strong roots in the Latin American people, researchers such as the Brazilian F.C. Rolim began to approach the phenomenon from a psychological perspective: What is a Pentecostal community? That is, what distinguishes it from the communties provided by the Catholic Church and the historic or Reformed churches?
Pursuing this line of questionning, some researchers have found that Pentecostal communities tend to be personally engaging and highly participatory. They eliminate the traditional barriers that have grown up between clergy and laity. Through their participation in the diverse ministries of the church, people stop being "objects" and become active subjects of religious experience and discourse.
The pastoral perspective
Some Roman Catholic researchers propose the "thirst for God" explanation to understand the growth of Pentecostalism. This focus tends to become a criticism of the Roman Catholic Church for not having been able to respond to the needs of the people. It holds that while the Catholic Church and the historic Protestant churches are empty, the Pentecostal churches grow because they satisfy the needs of the people.
Scholars have helped us to understand the attraction that Pentecostalism holds for diverse social sectors. Theologian Juan Sepúlveda considers the results of these studies and provides an interesting theological analysis in his article, "The Growth of the Pentecostal Movement in Latin America." ( lvarez, 1992, pp. 77-87***). Sepúlveda asserts that Pentecostalism is not a new doctrine, but a new, unmediated experience of God. Theologically, the only mediation is by the Holy Spirit, which permits individuals to experience directly the presence of God. Culturally, the symbolic universe produced by this experience of the Holy Spirit is personal and direct, and is not subject to priestly mediation (Alvarez, 1992, p. 87).***
Another distinctive aspect of Pentecostalism is the intensity of this encounter with the divine. God not only invades the life of the believer through the Holy Spirit, but takes possession of that life, filling it with new meaning. Through their testimonies, believers explain their change of life subjectively. The transformation is manifest in the new way they see themselves, their families, and their reality. So radical is the change in their lives that they must express it through ecstatic manifestations, such as speaking in tongues, dancing in the Spirit, or uncontrollable laughter or crying.
Further, the Pentecostal experience is lived in community, not in isolation. The dispossessed and disinherited find acceptance and an openness in Pentecostal communities that they had not felt before. On being accepted into the community of believers, they immediately testify to their new lives. Each believer becomes a missionary, according to his or her particular gifts.
Another distinctive and attractive aspect of Pentecostalism is that it appropriates the language of the people. Those who have had this new experience can share it in the vernacular, communicating the message with clarity and simplicity. Sometimes when Pentecostals are asked if their churches have taken a preferential option for the poor, they answer, "We haven't opted for the poor. We are the poor."
An overview of Latin American Pentecostals
The first section of this book looks at Latin American Pentecostalism from a historical and theological perspective. In the first essay, Carmelo lvarez gives us a panoramic vision of the Pentecostal movement, including a description of the beginnings of Pentecostalism in the United States and its rapid development thoughout the world, starting with the first decade of this century. lvarez provides a typology which includes four types of Pentecostalism in Latin America. In addition to the classic missionary and indigenous Pentecostalisms, he identifies some heretical Pentecostal movements and the so-called Pentecostalisms of divine healing and prosperity.
lvarez thinks that to better understand the history and development of the different kinds of Pentecostalism, it is important to emphasize three central aspects common to all Pentecostal churches, given the notion that spirituality should incorporate all aspects of a believer's life: liturgy, testimony, and evangelization. After analyzing each aspect, lvarez stresses that the widespread presence of different Pentecostalisms in today's Latin American and Caribbean religious scene is a pressing missiological and ecumenical challenge which requires more understanding and more openness on the part of all Christian confessions.
In the second article, Bernardo Campos defines important concepts related to Pentecostalism. Campos argues that Pentecostalism is a religious movement and not a "denomination." Although self-defined Pentecostal or charismatic religious communities exist within Protestantism and Catholicism, it is its "character as movement that produces Pentecostalism's visible fruits."
From a sociological perspective, Campos asserts that Latin American Pentecostalism offers symbolic mediation for what he calls the "the affirmation of popular hope," because it is both a spiritual movement which transforms the individual and a movement of symbolic protest in a society which denies the dispossessed the chance to achieve or to participate in social organization. It is also a popular movement that has emerged as traditional societies have undergone rapid transition, thus becoming a medium for profound social change. Yet, according to Campos, although different expressions of Pentecostalism are embodied in different historical expressions of Christianity, in its essence, Pentecostalism is universally a spiritual experience of the resurrected Christ of Pentecost.
In the third essay, Juan Sepúlveda offers an analytical reflection on the unique theological characteristics of Chilean Pentecostalism, illustrating the diversity that exists in the Pentecostal movement.
Chilean Pentecostalism shares the basic characteristics of the Pentecostal identity: an emphasis on evangelization oriented to conversion, the baptism of the Holy Spirit, the church as a charismatic and healing community, the belief in a spiritual world, and the anticipation of the Second Coming of Christ. Still, having derived directly from Methodism without the mediation of the Holiness Movements, as in the case of North American Pentecostalism, Chilean Pentecostalism emphasizes the primacy of experience over doctrine. The intense experience of the personal encounter with God is expressed in free and open emotional language that satisfies the quest for spirituality and enriches religious expression and popular culture. Sepúlveda argues that the contribution of Pentecostal theology lies not in its systematic treatment or elaboration, but in the believers' testimonies as narrations of their personal and communal experience of the Spirit. This fundamental emphasis affirms the absolute liberty of the Holy Spirit to express herself as she will without shackling her with doctrinal restrictions. Pentecostals also affirm that their hope in the Second Coming of Christ implies that Christians currently find themselves in an active waiting period, in which believers collaborate in the church and participate in social life.
Comparison between historic Protestantisms and Pentecostalisms
The second section includes two comparative studies. In the first, Leonildo Silveira Campos presents a careful and measured analysis of the Pentecostal movement in Brazil. His essay includes a description of the historical and social conditions in which the Pentecostal movement emerged and developed. Silveira analyzes Pentecostalism's intense dynamism, its contradictions, its multiple manifestations, its capacity to respond to the psychological and social needs of individuals, and its symbolic power enriched by expressions of popular religiosity. His analysis helps us to understand the increasingly significant role these movements play in Brazilian religious life.
Silveira Campos describes with special clarity and discernment the theological, ecclesiological, and pastoral challenges that Pentecostalism represents for the historic Protestant churches. He frankly discusses the dangers and demands that Pentecostalism presently faces, and examines possible future scenarios in the Brazilian religious scene, calling for dialogue and relations between the historic Protestant and Pentecostal churches.
The second comparative study examines the causes of the extraordinary growth of the Christian churches in Cuba in the last five years, doubtless one of the most important features of the Cuban religious scene. The causes for this are many, according to the authors (Rafael Cepeda, Elizabeth Carrillo, Rhode González, and Carlos Ham), including the recent recognition by the state of the need for new spaces for religious practice and expressions, and of the profound ideological and economic crisis facing socialist models in general and Cuban society in particular.
In a context of uncertainty and instability, pastors and lay people have joined forces to form new churches in all social groups and in all regions of the country. Many churches have even been established in private homes. Pentecostals evangelize with special intensity, emphasizing individual spirituality and celebrating a liturgy that incorporates elements of popular culture. These liturgies encourage people to freely and spontaneously share their emotions and personal experiences as part of worship. This approach contrasts markedly with the bureaucratic or hierarchical restrictions imposed by state institutions and traditional churches.
The historic Protestant churches have continued to evangelize and provide social services to Cuban society. This ongoing testimony has permitted historic Protestants to avoid political confrontations, overcome economic limitations, and preserve denominational coherence, while maintaining fraternal relations with churches and ecclesiastical institutions around the world. The authors discuss Pentecostal influence on the historic Cuban churches, especially in liturgy and pastoral ministry, and they forecast good possibilities of learning from each other through interdenominational dialogue.
The focus of the third section is on the analysis of specific situations where Pentecostal participation and influence has been particularly relevant.
In the first study, Francisco Limón and Abel Clemente present a history of the participation of Protestant and Pentecostal churches in Mexican social and political life. Mexico's social, political and economic crisis presents evangelicals with an opportunity for renewal, church growth, social and economic mobility, and an increased role in political and economic decision-making.
The constitutional reforms of 1992 offered a chance to put freedom of religion and speech on the agenda again. Demanding respect for these freedoms and blocking the possibility of abuses by the Catholic Church and other powerful institutions are the motivations behind recently increased political participation by Mexican evangelicals. Pentecostals have participated actively at all levels, including providing leadership for some associations of evangelical churches. Indeed, Pentecostals have become important interlocutors with the Mexican state.
The case of Chiapas illustrates the deep changes being experienced in a country marked by complex cultural diversity, where rigid social stratification has marginalized whole populations. The marginalized, lacking life's most basic necessities, have looked to armed rebellion as their only defense. Add to this picture a national political system in the midst of violent internal crisis and the unyielding pressures exercised by global neo-capitalism. Evangelicals and Pentecostals, indigenous and mestizos, have joined together to improve their social and economic situation, and to provide legal defense for people evicted from their ancestral lands because of their faith. The authors believe that these efforts, together with the efforts of Catholics who work in solidarity with the marginalized population, will play a determining role in the struggle for justice and democracy in the next few years.
The second case studied is situated in Brazil. Cecilia Loreto Mariz questions the sharp criticisms lodged by many observers against the growth and influence of the Pentecostal movement among the Brazilian poor. Mariz avers that some elements of Pentecostalism have had positive effects in the lives of poor communities.
Though Mariz recognizes a great diversity among Pentecostal denominations, and admits that some of the criticisms are valid, she thinks that even neo-Pentecostals and autonomous Pentecostal groups often provide the poor with experiences and values that help them confront their daily problems and survive in a hostile neo-capitalist environment.
In previous research, Mariz noted that poor people find in Pentecostal churches an increased sense of dignity, a sense of belonging, the "experience of power," and space for the creation of a new identity. The encounter with the sacred and the valuation of spiritual gifts over material riches revives their sense of security and personal value. This is reinforced by a network of mutual support among the community of believers. Faith based on trust in Divine Providence promotes a feeling in the faithful that, beyond all the suffering and the problems, a superior wisdom will prevail. She concludes that the basic elements of Pentecostalism allow us to understand why Pentecostal churches are not only attractive to the poor, but also help them to face and overcome their poverty.
The third case studies the place of women in the religious discourse and practice of Pentecostal communities. Ana Ligia Sánchez and Osmundo Ponce present the results of their study of women in Pentecostal churches in several Latin American countries. Special attention is given to how women participate in liturgy and social work.
Sánchez and Ponce conclude that Pentecostal communities tend to reproduce society's existing patriarchal stereotypes and values. This discourse claims that God has assigned different, absolute and unchanging roles and responsibilities to men and women. Despite the prevalence of patriarchal discourse, the authors note that many churches have begun to confront machismo and affirm the value of women. They also note that some Pentecostal churches now affirm women's leadership roles, including the pastoral ministry.
Challenge to the historic churches
The fourth and last section of this book focuses on the challenges and possibilities that the Latin American Pentecostal movement offers to the historic churches (Catholic and Protestant) and to ecumenism worldwide.
Edgar Moros looks at Pentecostalism's challenge to the Roman Catholic Church in Latin America. The success of Pentecostal evangelistic efforts and the resultant astonishing growth of Pentecostal churches all over Latin America has deeply challenged the cultural and ideological hegemony (real and supposed) exercised by the Catholic Church. Pentecostalism has deep roots in popular culture, thus calling into question the notion that Catholicism is an intrinsic and therefore indispensable element of the socio-cultural identity of the Latin American peoples.
Moros analyzes Catholic attitudes and responses (official and non-official) to the challenge. Some sectors, both conservative and progressive, have responded critically and defensively by characterizing Pentecostals as a dangerous foreign threat. Others, including some progressive theologians, clergy, and lay people who have contact with the grassroots, see the Pentecostal challenge as beneficial in that it has forced historic churches to evaluate their ministries and discover new ways to combine effectively faith, doctrine, and service. This group seeks dialogue with Pentecostals as a mechanism for increased understanding among Christian churches.
The author concludes that Catholics must now choose between two alternatives: superficial change as a mechanism for preserving or recovering social, political, and religious hegemony; or profound change in faithfulness to the Gospel, which could assure the loss of hegemony, but would offer the opportunity to work with other Christians in building a freer and more just Latin American cultural, secular, and religious reality.
By sharing her personal experience, Ofelia Ortega describes how Pentecostals have gradually approached the historic Protestant churches through the world ecumenical movement. She reflects on Pentecostalism's valuable theological, pastoral, and liturgical contributions to all Christian churches. She sees as promising and gratifying the openness and participation of Pentecostals in dialogue with other Christian churches on a broad range of issues--from theological and liturgical matters to the question of women's participation in church and society. This dialogue must finally be based on the "ecumenism of the Spirit," the spiritual unity that undergirds all God's creation, nurtured by the Holy Spirit, whose guidance gives meaning and coherence to the evangelizing and prophetic work of the Church.
Pastor Eber F. Silveira Lima recounts the changing relationship between the Independent Presbyterian Church of Brazil (IPI) and the Pentecostal movement during the last century. In contrast with the significant tensions of the past, characterized by uncompromising confrontations and schisms in both communities, the last few years have seen notable changes, bringing a new era of openness and constructive dialogue between Reformed and Pentecostal believers.
In 1995 IPI's General Assembly demonstrated this new willingness through their decision to be genuinely open to groups that have opted for Pentecostal practices and doctrinal emphases. While conserving basic Reformed principles, the IPI has begun to dialogue with charismatic groups at the institutional and congregational level. This dialogue is based on prayer, joint theological and biblical study, and shared experiences that avoid sectarian discourse, and seek unity in the Gospel.
Lima offers advice on how to continue constructive dialogue between the diverse groups, recognizing the need to balance renewed doctrinal study with confessional unity. He suggests that the "traditional" Reformed groups be more open in attitude and practice to new ideas and more generous to people seeking a sincere spiritual transformation. For the charismatic groups, he counsels an appreciation for the fundamental values of the denomination and a sense of caution and discernment with regard to the sectarian discourse and practices of some charismatic leaders.
In the following article, Paul Freston presents a systematic and up-to-date analysis of Pentecostalism's relations with historic Protestant churches in Brazil. In describing the essential events that have transformed the religious scene in Brazil, and by situating them in a broad historical context, the author offers a constructive and balanced vision of the Pentecostal movement. Pentecostalism, according to Freston, is a multi-dimensional phenomenon that has fundamental repercussions in the social and cultural life of Latin American peoples.
In the final article, Dennis Smith invites all Christians to respond creatively to the devastating social and economic problems confronting Latin America. These problems are presented through a series of anecdotes and testimonies coming from the margins of Latin American society. All the cases Smith cites represent challenges to the Christian churches. The pastoral ministry in all its dimensions requires the recognition and the sensitivity to help people who feel isolated, without a purpose for living, but who still seek peace in the midst of violence; meaning in the midst of overwhelming personal emptiness; honest relationships; the joy of celebration; and life in a community of believers.
Smith urges Christian churches to assume their prophetic role with dignity and humility so that they can affirm their theological principles, put aside sectarianism, and live in the gospel. He makes an urgent call to articulate strategies to enable pastors to preach creatively and prophetically, to value the participation of women in all dimensions of church and social life, and to foster the joyful expression of faith in a contextualized liturgy resulting from a fruitful dialogue between the Pentecostal and historic churches.
We hope that this book will spur the reader's interest to study these issues further, according to his or her particular concerns and religious context.
This book represents only a fraction of the wide range of studies and points of view that have attempted to explain the nature and implications of the "Pentecostal phenomenon." For readers interested in pursuing these issues further, we should particularly note the contributions of Latin American Pentecostal researchers such as Manuel Canales, Samuel Palma, and Hugo Villela, and the evangelical researcher, Manuel Ossa.
Allow me to conclude with a personal note. Studying Pentecostalism has a special meaning for me. Although I made my profession of faith and was baptized in Saint Paul's Presbyterian Church in Houston, Texas, when I was 12 years old, and have been a Presbyterian pastor since 1956, I have known Pentecostal churches all my life. My grandfather was one of the first Presbyterians in the North of Mexico, and when he came to the United States he continued to belong to the Presbyterian church. My father became a member of a Pentecostal church when he was very young, eventually became a lay pastor, and served in this capacity for many years until his death.
Since the majority of my family is affiliated with different Pentecostal denominations, I have followed closely the growth of the Pentecostal church in the United States, as well as in Latin America and the Caribbean. Furthermore, since 1973, during my work as liaison between the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and partner churches in Latin America and the Caribbean, and in the last few years as Area Coordinator for South America, the denomination I represent has had fraternal relationships with some Pentecostal churches in the region.
Having been born into a Pentecostal home, and having followed closely the work of these churches, has helped me to understand the Pentecostal world in a special way. And yet, the changes inside the movement have been so great, and the practices, doctrines, and styles of Pentecostalism are so different, that the contribution of the 17 researchers in this book has been indispensable for my understanding of so complex an issue.