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What Meaneth This? A Question for 21st Century Pentecostalism

Doug Beacham, General Superintendent of the International Pentecostal Holiness Church, shares a timely challenge about giving an answer for the hope within us.

 

The year 2008 is shaping up as an unusually violent period of natural disasters around the world. In the United States tornados are destroying homes, business, and in some cases, entire towns, at a record pace. Myanmar (Burma) had the double calamity of a devastating typhoon and a paralyzed police-state response. China continues to crumble from the effects of the earthquake in Sichuan province that left over 60,000 dead and thousands more injured and homeless.

I’ve wondered what the Christian response will be to these contemporary natural problems, as well as our continued response to the front page issues of terrorism, war, poverty, AIDS, malaria, and a host of other issues confronting our troubled world. I pray our response will be similar to what Rodney Stark describes in how Christians in the first three centuries of our era responded. In The Rise of Christianity: How the Obscure, Marginal Jesus Movement Became the Dominant Religious Force in the Western World in a Few Centuries, Stark showed that when epidemics, fires, earthquakes, and ethnic violence spread through densely populated cities, the Christian commitment to love one’s neighbor gave Christians a reason to stay in the mess, while rulers, philosophers, and pagan religious leaders fled to the countryside. Yes, many Christians died nursing their neighbors, but others became immune and established networks of care, love, and faithfulness.

Stark wrote, “To cities filled with the homeless and impoverished, Christianity offered charity as well as hope. To cities filled with newcomers and strangers, Christianity offered an immediate basis for attachments. To cities filled with orphans and widows, Christianity provided a new and expanded sense of family. To cities torn by violent ethnic strife, Christianity offered a new basis for social solidarity. And to cities faced with epidemics, fires, and earthquakes, Christianity offered effective nursing services.”1

Let’s not forget that two thousand years ago the first followers of Jesus responded to a series of events that impacted the natural world.

With that in mind, I find myself reflecting on a conversation I heard on January 5, 2005, when National Public Radio’s Neil Conan interviewed Simon Winchester on the program “Talk of the Nation.” Aptly titled “After Tsunami, Religion Plays Role in Coping,” the interview explored the religious response to the devastation that occurred in Asia at Christmas, 2004 and left over 297,000 people dead or missing. Winchester, noted for his book Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded, a study of the impact of the 1883 volcanic eruption and tsunami that devastated Indonesia, described how Indonesia’s then two dominant religious groups tried to assess the meaning of the event. While Hindus viewed it as part of the cycle of life, Moslems viewed it as a sign of Allah’s judgment upon those who had compromised with rising Western and Christian influence. As a result, Moslem clerics called for violent resistance to Christianity and the West.

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Category: Living the Faith, Summer 2008

About the Author: A. Doug Beacham, Jr., D.Min. (Union Presbyterian Seminary), is the General Superintendent of the International Pentecostal Holiness Church (IPHC Ministries). Twitter: @DougBeacham. LinkedIn. Facebook.

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