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


At a much deeper level within the Pentecostal and Charismatic tradition, however, lies the fact that virtually any move toward greater ecumenical understanding or cooperation is viewed with extreme suspicion. We are suspicious of these documents, suspicious that they may be documents of compromise. This suspicion is easily substantiated with a simple reading of the Bylaws that some groups have adopted in order to marginalize or exclude the ecumenical agenda from their midst, or in various practices that are designed to do the same, for example, the unwillingness to allow publication of articles on the subject that might be construed as supportive of ecumenism, or even the willingness to preach against it from a context that lacks understanding. As a result of this suspicion, few Pentecostal leaders have been willing to allow any forum to exist in which ecumenism is explored objectively. With few exceptions, I believe that they fear the response of the people. Frequently the people are more ecumenical than their leaders are. As a result, Pentecostal leaders often do not allow their constituencies to know of any situation in which Pentecostals are participating ecumenically, they do not inform their constituencies of any documents that ecumenists have produced unless it is to criticize them, and they refuse to publish any article that might contribute to a change in the status quo. What could Pentecostal/charismatics do that would foster greater understanding and cooperation between Christian communities?

Mel Robeck: There are several different ways in which believers can get involved in genuine ecumenical activity. First, prayer, a staple of Pentecostal/Charismatic life, can play an enormous role in helping to form ecumenical sensitivity. When we pray for others, they move from the margins of our lives to areas of more central importance. It is the case that all too often, we do not pray for other churches by name. We may offer prayers for other “Christians” generally, or we may single out a specific group such as “persecuted Christians,” and these times of prayer are all good. What we tend not to do is to pray for other denominations, or local congregations, or pastoral and church leaders by name.

Frequently the people are more ecumenical than their leaders are.

Our ecumenical sensitivity can be improved if we look at “the other” as though they were us, and pray specifically for their needs. Anyone can call another church and ask a few simple questions. “How can I best pray for your congregation? What are your needs? How can we help bear your burdens?” These are non-threatening ways to begin dialogue between congregations.

Many times throughout the year, my local congregation prays for other specific congregations in our community—Pentecostals, Methodists, Nazarenes, Presbyterians, Roman Catholics, and others. When John Paul II travels and is given the opportunity to speak on behalf of the Church as a whole, we lift him up in prayer as well. In the recent sexual scandals that have plagued the Roman Catholic Church, rather than add our voices to its condemnation, we have lifted its leaders up in prayer, asking that God would give them wisdom in how best to address the situation. It seems to me that by praying for these “others” we take our place within the Church as a whole, and we become one with them in a new way.


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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 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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