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Pentecostal/Charismatic Churches and Ecumenism: An Interview with Mel Robeck

 

Evangelical and Orthodox leaders gathered for the
2014 Lausanne-Orthodox Initiative Consultation,
September 15 – 19, 2014, at the monastery of St. Vlash, Albania.
Dr. Robeck is 8th from the left, wearing a white shirt and dark necktie.

PneumaReview.com: How does ecumenical dialogue relate to the faith, life, and work of the local church?

Mel Robeck: The way that I look at ecumenism—that it embraces those things that affect the “Household of God”—means that I see it as having an enormous impact upon the ongoing faith, life, and work of the Church. To the extent that my local congregation sees itself as part of that universal Church, or to word it another way, to the extent that the universal Church finds its expression in my local congregation, I am already involved in ecumenism. This relationship between the local and the universal aspects of the Church is sometimes referred to in terms of the Church’s “catholicity.” When I try to interact with others who make the same claims about their local congregations as I do with respect to its universal ecclesial nature, I engage in ecumenical dialogue.

We have the responsibility to challenge other Christians to greater levels of conformity to the Word of God, but we don’t have the right to disinherit them as our siblings, our brothers and sisters ‘in Christ.’ Our unwillingness to take up this responsibility leaves ‘them’ without the gifts that God has given to us for the Church and it leaves ‘us’ without the gifts that God has given through them for the Church.

The Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, first drafted in AD 325 and expanded in AD 381 is a creed that all Pentecostal/charismatics should be able to embrace. This creed names what have traditionally been called the four “marks” or attributes of the Church. The Creed says, “We believe in the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.” When that one church has been divided and we have developed different doctrines, issues of faith are placed at the center of our division. Ecumenical dialogue is a useful tool in helping us to understand our continuing unity, even though there might be diversity over certain theological issues. Ecumenical dialogue can also help us to resolve such differences.

When Christians in the United States and Christians in other parts of the world find themselves fighting against one another because their governments are aligned against one another, we are brought face to face with issues of real life. Ecumenical dialogue is a useful tool in helping us resolve our differences, or in educating us to the political realities that we might otherwise miss. In the end, it can help us to recognize whether it is the blood of American soldiers or Christian Palestinians, for example that is more important to us as members of the “Household of God.”

When one set of churches says that the way to be the most helpful to people around the world is to engage in some form of active social justice, and another set of churches says that what is most essential is that we preach the Gospel and engage in evangelism and mission, ecumenical dialogue can be a useful tool in helping us to prioritize how best to meet the specific needs of a specific people in a specific life setting with the resources we share. The point of all ecumenical dialogue is to build and/or maintain bridges of communication between all parties.

 

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Category: Ministry, Winter 2003

About the Author: Cecil M. Robeck, Jr., Ph.D. (Fuller Theological Seminary), is Senior Professor of Church History and Ecumenics and Special Assistant to the President for Ecumenical Relations at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. He is an ordained minister with the Assemblies of God who has served at the seminary since 1974. His work on the Azusa Street revival is well known. His ecumenical work, since 1984, is highly respected around the world by Christian leaders outside the Pentecostal Movement. He continues to serve as a bridge between Pentecostalism and the larger church world, leading international dialogues, participating in ecumenical consultations, and working on and writing about church-dividing issues. He appears regularly on the AmericanReligious.org Town Hall weekly telecast. He co-edited The Cambridge Companion to Pentecostalism (Cambridge, 2014) with Amos Yong, The Azusa Street Revival and Its Legacy (Wipf & Stock, 2009) with Harold D. Hunter, and The Suffering Body: Responding to the Persecution of Christians (Paternoster, 2006) with Harold D. Hunter. He is also the author of The Azusa Street Mission and Revival: The Birth of the Global Pentecostal Movement (Thomas Nelson, 2006 and 2017) and Prophecy in Carthage: Perpetua, Tertullian, and Cyprian (Pilgrim, 1992). Faculty page

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