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The Spirit and the Prophetic Church, Part 1, by Antipas L. Harris

As appearing in the Pneuma Review Spring 2013.

 The Spirit and the Prophetic Church

Building Ministry Coalitions for Urban Ministry

Part 1 of 2

Thesis and Introduction

Scholars from disciplines other than the theological guild have observed the value that congregations play in their members’ everyday lives. When churches engage in the affairs of the community within which they are located, their presence and participation as community leaders result in profound community transformation, impact felt far beyond the walls of the church.1

State officials and community leaders confirm scholars’ research findings that there is a need for churches to play a leadership role in transforming communities that are victims of urban blight.2 Brian Gullins, Program Administrator for the Strengthen Families Initiative at Virginia Department of Social Services, comments that “State governments are beginning to recognize that encouraging the faith community to strengthen families is actually a poverty reduction strategy beneficial to all.”3 Gullins concludes that of the social service and civic organizations within urban communities, the most promising institutions to effectuate community transformation are the churches. He says, “If we could get the churches to partner with us, we could address the issue of absent fathers in a profound way.”4 Scott C. Alleman, Associate Commonwealth’s Attorney of the Special Prosecutions Trial Team (Narcotics/Vice) in Virginia Beach adds that when the legal team goes onsite to do a criminal investigation, most of the time there are several churches within a stone’s throw from the crime scene. Alleman comments, “It would be great if we could get the churches to get involved. I think there is huge potential for partnerships and cooperation between the church and law enforcement.”5

A lack of church involvement in their own neighborhoods, which baffles state officials and community leaders, appears to be the result of a flawed theological framework undergirding the churches’ ecclesiology.6 The most salient questions, moreover, are whether or not churches recognize that God has appointed them as viable mechanisms to lead in holistic transformation. Does their practice of theology allow them to be open and involved in community transformation? Also, given the wide-range of needs and need for a variety of gifts, do churches have an ecumenical7 theology that gives them reason to partner with churches of different denominational traditions?

In this essay, I will argue that a prophetic8 church is not a single congregation working to make right the wrong in communities and in the world but rather the unified ecumenical coalition of churches that together are a witness to Christ in voice and action. Ecumenical ministries are necessary mechanisms for advancing God’s kingdom on earth. This much-needed conversation on ecumenical coalition building has particular implications towards urban transformation.

A Pentecostal Perspective for An Ecumenical Theology

Twentieth Century American Pentecostalism was born as an ecumenical ministry—people from several different denominational, theological, and doctrinal traditions and different ethnic groups came together based on the common denominator that God was moving by the Holy Spirit.9 Walter Hollenweger argues that “the Pentecostal Movement started as an ecumenical revival movement within the traditional churches.”10 Dale T. Irvin points out that William Seymour, founder of twentieth century American Pentecostalism, understood that the outpouring of the Holy Spirit overcomes hate, bigotry, racism and prejudice, as well as doctrinal and theological differences that caused divisions in the churches.11 In the essay “Pentecostalism and Ecumenism: Past, Present, and Future” Amos Yong laments how historically Pentecostals, as an ecumenical movement in many ways have “squandered a golden opportunity to continue as a prophetic voice not only on racial and ethnic issues, but also on socio-economic ones as well.”12 Since then, Paul Alexander and others have taken up portions of this torch and championed theologies from a Pentecostal perspective that advocate for social activism in regards to acts of war ethnic equality and racial reconciliation. Yet, there remains a need to plant the seeds of Pentecostal ecumenism in a theology for urban ministry.

This essay is a step towards a theology for urban ministry from a Pentecostal perspective. It contributes to the necessary rationale for all churches to minister as a unified Body of Christ for more viable prophetic ministry—addressing, engaging, and transforming urban communities by the power of the Holy Spirit.13 Ministry must be both ecumenical and prophetic to be effective in our cities.

Walter Brueggemann describes the impact that results from the lack of a prophetic outlook in ministry. The absence of a prophetic theology in ministry results in churches that are disconnected from the community into which they are called. From a mainline denominational perspective, Brueggemann explains that “ministry most often exists in congregations that are bourgeois, if not downright obdurate, and in which there is no special openness to or support of prophetic ministry.”14 He seems to ignore the heavy emphasis on the prophetic within Pentecostal Churches.

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Category: Ministry, Pneuma Review, Spring 2013

About the Author: Antipas L. Harris, D.Min. (Boston University), S.T.M. (Yale University Divinity School), M.Div. (Emory University), was appointed as the founding dean of the Urban Renewal Center in Norfolk, Virginia in the Spring of 2017. He is the Criminal Justice System Director for the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference (NHCLC), president of the Global Institute for Empowerment & Leadership Development, known as GIELD, and he serves as the Director of TheUrbanCircle.Net, a relational network of urban ministries and churches. He has additional experience as an educator, academic lecturer, itinerant preacher, pastor, youth director, motivational speaker, and Christian musician. He is the author of Holy Spirit, Holy Living: A Practical Theology of Holiness for Twenty-first Century Churches (Wipf & Stock, 2013) and Unstoppable Success: 7 Ways to Flourish in Your Boundless Potential (High Bridge Books, 2014). AntipasHarris.com | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

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