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A Pentecostal Perspective on Evangelism and Religious Pluralism: The Right Moment for an Important and Unprecedented Document, by Tony Richie

Nevertheless, I share the concern that it is in areas where interfaith hostility is most intense that applying these recommendations will perhaps also be most difficult. After all, how does one enforce these guidelines? Or how are we held accountable? And yet, I can’t help but believe that having them out there, with the full significance of knowing that 90% of the world’s Christians favor some version of morally sensitive evangelism such as it signifies, and that interfaith violence is not acceptable, may bring a little salt and light to what has been a flat and dark situation for too long. I hope so. I pray so.

Affirming the Potential

In any case, as one who helped in a small way in the writing of “Recommendations for Conduct,” I certainly concur with Ott’s general assessment.

What’s valuable about the document is that Christians are letting the world know that they are intending to be respectful, loving, and transparent in their approach to missions and that they do not intend to be seen as violent or coercive… If it causes some groups to give a little more pause to the way they consider others, especially a lot of the real nasty, uninformed rhetoric that is out there, if it somehow calls people to be tempered in their speech, then it is a good thing.10

Nevertheless, I would be the first to admit that “Christian Witness in a Multi-religious World: Recommendations for Conduct” is not a perfect document. How could it be? Some of what I wanted didn’t make it in, and some of what I didn’t want in did make it! I’m sure my colleagues could each say the same. To an extent, that also sounds a lot like what I’m hearing come through from others who are now reading it for the first time. That being said, I think this is the right moment for such an important and unprecedented document—a unified statement on unapologetic Christian mission and witness characterized by honesty and humility. A world of anger and danger needs believers to bear witness to our Lord Jesus Christ and his gospel in love with gentleness and respect without compromising righteousness and truth (1 Pet 3:15).

Expanding for Pentecostals

What does this important and unprecedented document, and even more especially, the issues it raises, mean for Pentecostal and Charismatic/Renewal Christians in terms of their mission? I’m reminded of the words of Michael Kinnamon, General Secretary of the National Council of Churches (USA), in St Louis at an Interfaith Relations Commission meeting (October 6-8, 2011). He was particularly replying to Pentecostal participation in the process of developing the document “Christian Witness in a Multi-Religious World: Recommendations for Conduct”. As I recall, he stated that Pentecostals today are demonstrating that they have longstanding resources in their tradition upon which to draw in leading the way regarding Christian mission in contexts of ecumenical and interfaith relations. I agree. Furthermore, I’d add, our spirituality and theology, particularly our distinctive pneumatology, practically compel us to shoulder our share of the burden of responsibilities in such contexts.11

A few observations appear to be order, however. First, of course Pentecostal Christians are adamantly and unapologetically committed to the absolute and utter uniqueness of Jesus Christ, the incomparable inspiration and authority of the Holy Bible, and the unique nature and necessity of Christian salvation.12 Second, Pentecostals rightly resist any restriction on the right to evangelize others with a view toward offering them the temporal and eternal benefits of Christian conversion.13 Finally, and this is critical in the context of the present conversation, Pentecostals fervently affirm the essential importance of spiritual discernment in situations of Christian faith and life as well as in all ministry and mission—including settings involving religious pluralism. Really, I think that this is what “Christian Witness in a Multi-Religious World: Recommendations for Conduct” is all about anyway: inviting the Holy Spirit to help us distinguish between right and wrong so that we may do evangelism well. Lord, please enable us to bear witness to Jesus Christ in a Christ-like manner (1 John 2:6)! Amen.

 

Notes

1 On doing Christian mission in a religiously plural world, see Global Renewal, Religious Pluralism, and the Great Commission: Towards a Renewal Theology of Mission and Interreligious Encounter, Asbury Theological Seminary Series in Christian Revitalization, Pentecostal/Charismatic section, eds. Amos Yong and Clifton Clarke (Lexington, KY: Emeth Press, 2011).
2 On religion-related violence and its religious pluralism components, see Tony Richie, Speaking by the Spirit: A Pentecostal Model for Interreligious Dialogue, Asbury Theological Seminary Series in World Christian Revitalization  Movements, gen ed., J. Stephen O’Malley, Pentecostal/charismatic Studies ed., William F. Faupel (Lexington, KY: Emeth Press, 2011), 14-22. Religion-related violence is one of the greatest, if not the greatest, global challenges facing our world and its religions today, 220-21. Essential to its resolution is recognizing the responsibility of all churches, including Pentecostal movements, to promote peace through improving interreligious relations, 237 (fn 151).
3 Pentecostals fervently affirm the divine mission of the Church to bear bold witness to the world of Jesus Christ as the only Savior, Richie, Speaking by the Spirit, 28. This evangelistic commitment does not lessen but rather increases a responsibility to act ethically toward religious others. See Tony Richie, “A Threefold Cord: Weaving Together Pentecostal Ecumenism, Ethics, and Evangelism in Conversion,” Current Dialogue 50 (January 2008), 47-54.
4 Pentecostals believe conversion is essential for salvation, and therefore feel compelled by love to present everyone with an opportunity in liberty to repent and believe, Richie, Speaking by the Spirit, 28, and are known as aggressive and active missionaries and evangelists. See Grant L. McClung, Jr., “Evangelism,” New International Dictionary of Pentecostal Charismatic Movements (NIDPCM), 617-20 (esp. 617, 620). Pentecostals understand their evangelistic fervor and effectiveness as directly derivative from their experience of Spirit baptism (Acts 1:8). However, it is imperative to underscore that the Church’s mission is broad enough to embrace such wide-ranging activities as evangelism, social activism, and interreligious dialogue, Richie, Speaking by the Spirit, 102-03.
5 Cp. Vinson Synan: “Classical Pentecostalism,” NIDPCM, 553-55, and “Evangelicalism,” NIDPCM, 613-16.
6 Besides me, other Pentecostals involved with various stages of the process include Cheryl Bridges Johns (USA), Connie Au (Asia), and a few Elim folks (UK).
7 See Donald E. Miller and Tetsunao Yamamori, Global Pentecostalism: The New Face of Christian Social Engagement (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2007. Cp. Richie, Speaking by the Spirit, 102-03 and 125 (fn 250).
8 Nevertheless, for an intriguing study of this subject, see Miroslav Volf, Allah: A Christian Response (San Francisco: HarperOne, 2011).
9 See Raymond F. Culpepper, The Great Commission: The Solution… (Cleveland, TN: Pathway, 2009). Cp. also to Peter Wagner’s Foreword to Cindy Jacobs, The Reformation Manifesto: Your Part in God’s Plan to Change the Nations Today (Bloomington, Minnesota: Bethany House, 2008), 10.
10 See also Hans Küng, “Global Ethics and Education,” The Future of Theology: Essays in Honor of Jürgen Moltmann, eds. Miroslav Volf, Carmen Krieg, Thomas Kucharz (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996), 267-83.
11 On Pentecostals’ biblical, moral, and spiritual obligation to work for mitigation of interfaith conflict, see Richie, Speaking by the Spirit, 29-30.
12 Ibid: 26-28.
13 Ibid: 29.
14 Ibid: 101 and 124 (fn 247).

This article has been revised and expanded from “The Right Moment for an Important & Unprecedented Document” that appeared in the July 2011 issue of the Pneuma Informer newsletter.

 

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Category: Ministry, Pneuma Review, Winter 2012

About the Author: Tony Richie, D.Min, Ph.D., is missionary teacher at SEMISUD (Quito, Ecuador) and adjunct professor at the Pentecostal Theological Seminary (Cleveland, TN). Dr. Richie is an Ordained Bishop in the Church of God, and Senior Pastor at New Harvest in Knoxville, TN. He has served the Society for Pentecostal Studies as Ecumenical Studies Interest Group Leader and is currently Liaison to the Interfaith Relations Commission of the National Council of Churches (USA), and represents Pentecostals with Interreligious Dialogue and Cooperation of the World Council of Churches and the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs. He is the author of Speaking by the Spirit: A Pentecostal Model for Interreligious Dialogue (Emeth Press, 2011) and Toward a Pentecostal Theology of Religions: Encountering Cornelius Today (CPT Press, 2013) as well as several journal articles and books chapters on Pentecostal theology and experience.

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