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What Kind of Spirit Are We Really Of? A Pentecostal Approach to Interfaith Forgiveness and Interreligious Reconciliation

 

Becoming agents of reconciliation that glorify Jesus, not compromise His Gospel.

 

Introduction

Tony Richie at the 2011 convention of the Society for Pentecostal Studies.

An especially fruitful interfaith dialogue I was recently privileged to participate in released a cooperative statement containing several descriptive suggestions about the nature of religion and the religions. Among other things, it admitted that “religion has often been used, rather misused, to shed blood, spread bigotry and defend divisive and discriminatory socio-political practices”. That is sad but all-too-true. It also insisted, however, on the “necessity and usefulness” of interreligious dialogue “for promoting peace, harmony and conflict-transformation” in our world today.1 And that, I think, is true too. I am therefore both challenged and encouraged at the present opportunity to wrestle through these issues together with religious others by focusing on themes of forgiveness and reconciliation among the religions from my perspective as a Pentecostal Christian. And I am convinced global Pentecostalism may have some unique contributions to make to this conversation.

 

Extinguishing the Forbidden Fire of Sectarian Strife

In the context of sectarian strife, really full-blown religious and racial prejudice and tension between Jews and Samaritans, two of Jesus’ disciples desired to call fire down from Heaven to consume their competitors. Jesus firmly forbade them. Some ancient manuscripts add an explanatory comment from Jesus that “You do not know what kind of spirit you are of, for the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them” (Lu 9:56 NIV margin). Biblical exegete Craig Evans opines that the explanation “certainly captures the essential point of the passage.” According to Evans, the episode “portrays a loving and gracious Lord who does not seek vengeance”.2 In other words, Jesus wills forgiveness and reconciliation among rival religions and the Spirit he has given his disciples wills us in the same way. With its appreciation for pneumatological nuances, Pentecostalism’s theology and spirituality ought unquestionably to guide us in the same direction.

Completely convinced of the uniqueness of Christ and Christianity, global Pentecostalism has a unique contribution to make.

Pentecostals, as Harvey Cox has aptly described us, are concerned with “fire from heaven”.3 Following Scripture, Pentecostals themselves speak of baptism with the Spirit and with fire, and also frequently use fire as a metaphor for intense spiritual experience and fervor (cf. Matt 3:11-12). Yet the destructive fire of sectarian strife is forbidden. Unfortunately, as Pentecostal ecumenist and historian Mel Robeck sadly shows, after the religiously ecumenical and racially open age of the first few years of the modern Pentecostal movement, that understanding has been apparently deliberately discarded in a grave act of disobedience to the Spirit’s leading.4 Accordingly, members of the modern Pentecostal movement desiring to return to its authentic and original biblical and historical ethos must address relations among the religions with more openness and understanding than has all-too-often been the case since.

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Category: Ministry, Spring 2009

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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