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Reflections on a Term at the Gregorian University

There were no classes the week after Easter, so the day after we met with Pope Francis, Patsy and I rode with a Fr. William Henn, OFM Capp. to Venice. After so many weeks of gray skies and rain, it was a refreshing break to drive north for 5 hours on a day filled with sunshine, green fields, blossoming orchards, and large stands of mustard. Bill and I have worked for years either in the Catholic – Pentecostal Dialogue or on the World Council of Churches’ Commission on Faith and Order. The occasion was a meeting between the staff of the Institute for Ecumenical Research run by the Lutheran World Federation in Strasbourg, France, and the Instituto di Studi Ecumenici “San Bernardino” located in Venice and run by Franciscans. We were given a very nice room in a building that overlooked a two-acre garden and the lagoon.

How do Lutherans understand Luther’s 95 theses today?

For over a decade this group has met for ecumenical conversation the Friday and Saturday following Easter. This year they were reviewing a document on “Lutheran Identity” prepared by the Strasbourg team. It asked how Lutherans understand Luther’s 95 theses today. I was invited to offer an external contribution on the subject. It was great to meet friends, Theo Dieter, who has been the Director of the Strasbourg Institute for years, as well as Professor André Birmele from the University of Strasbourg, also a theologian in the Strasbourg Institute. Theo was the primary Lutheran drafter of the Joint Declaration on Justification, signed by Lutherans, Catholics, and since 1999, also by Anglicans, Methodists, and Reformed churches. I worked with Theo to establish the International Lutheran – Pentecostal Dialogue. I also worked with Professor Birmele on Faith and Order. Professor Fr. Henn recommended that I offer this response in light of the public lecture I had given at the Gregorian. The conversation over two days was highly stimulating as we shared our various understandings of Lutheran identity, 500 years after Luther posted his theses. Patsy and I even had a half day in which to explore this beautiful city. On Sunday, we returned to Rome, and the following day, I began the last week of classes.

Snapshot from the course catalog.

My students have now submitted their papers. They cover a wide range of topics that range from healing to prosperity, from West Africa to Vietnam, the relationship between Pentecostalism and globalism, and the role of women in Pentecostalism in which the writer hopes ultimately to bring about change in the Catholic Church. Given the limitations they faced without adequate textbook support, their work is admirable. I will pray for their success as they seek to follow God’s call upon their lives.

After meeting with various members of the Jesuit community over meals, I was invited one last time to sit with a good-sized group of them, including the Dean of the university for a two-hour time of conversation. Questions came from many of them. Some wanted more information about various aspects of Pentecostal and Charismatic history and theology. Others wanted to know how I view the Catholic Church. The conversation was free ranging, but genuine, respectful, and hopeful throughout. In the end, several of them remarked that they hoped I would return. All of us were very pleased with the exchange. They dismissed for dinner, and I returned to the Lay Centre, where Patsy and I were treated as first-time guests at a special dinner arranged by the staff and students alike. It was a delightful evening, with speeches, and prayers, and singing, and laughing throughout.

“When I was young, I committed myself to follow Jesus. When He called me to work ecumenically, I argued with Him, but ultimately decided that I must follow Him.” –Mel Robeck

I have worked with the Catholic Church since 1985 at local, national, and international levels. I have read the documents that the bishops produced at the Second Vatican Council. I have taught classes at Fuller on the Catholic Church since Vatican II. I have helped to train their Diocesan Ecumenical officers on behalf of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops. I served as an official “theological expert” named by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, interfacing between them and the media when Pope John Paul II issued his Encyclical, Ut Unum Sint in 1995. I have preached at St. Vibiana’s Cathedrals in Los Angeles and at the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament in Sacramento. I was also invited to speak at the Ecumenical and Interreligious Memorial Service upon the death of Pope John Paul II in 2005. In all these years, I have never been asked to compromise on a single word.

When I was young, I committed myself to follow Jesus. When He called me to work ecumenically, I argued with Him, but ultimately decided that I must follow Him. During my theological training, it never crossed my mind that I would be given the opportunities and privileges that I have had. I can only testify to being the recipient of grace upon grace. My prayer is that my Pentecostal and Charismatic sisters and brothers will look again at what God is doing in His Church, and set aside those things which keep us from trusting Him completely. The results can bring fruit that we could not have imagined. All they require is faithfulness to His call.

 

PR

 

Further Reading:

On June 12, 2018, the Lay Centre published an interview with Mel Robeck entitled, “Professor follows Jesus’ call in commitment to ecumenism” about his stay at the Centre.

 

Notes

[1] Russell P. Spittler, “Implicit Values in Pentecostal Missions,” Missiology 16 (1988), 409-424.

[2] “Pentecostal Ecumenism: Overcoming the Challenges – Reaping the Benefits,” (Part I), The Journal of the European Pentecostal Theological Association 34:2 (2014), 113-132; (Part II), The Journal of the European Pentecostal Theological Association 35:1 (2015), 5-17.

[3] W. F. Carothers, The Baptism with the Holy Ghost and Speaking in Tongues (Houston, TX: W. F. Carothers, 1906-7), 25.

[4] This claim appears in “The Apostolic Faith Movement,” The Apostolic Faith [Los Angeles, CA] 1.1 September 1906), 2.1. This statement also appears in “Declare Parham Is Gaining,” The Waukegan Daily Gazette (September 28, 1906), 6, as coming from a “circular” distributed by Charles F. Parham, Projector.

[5] B.H. Streeter, The Primitive Church: Studied with Special Reference to the Origins of the Christian Ministry (London, England: Macmillan and Co., 1929), 69.

[6] At the request of the university, I submitted the paper too the university’s quarterly journal, Gregorianum. It is slated for publication.

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Category: Ministry, Spring 2018

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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