Evangelical and Pentecostal voices heard at Assembly
Igreja Pentecostal para Cristo, Porto alegre
Igor Sperotto / WCC
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Evangelical and Pentecostal participants in the World Council of Churches 9th Assembly have welcomed better relationships with WCC churches and called for greater co-operation in the future.
Speaking to journalists on Monday February 20 were three leading evangelical figures. Rev. Geoff Tunnicliffe, international director and CEO of the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA), said that the WEA "parallel network" of 400m Christians identified with many of the WCC's themes, such as work on HIV/AIDS, violence and poverty.
He said that evangelical Christians - of which there were many in WCC churches - were committed to integral mission, the proclamation and demonstration of the gospel. "If we ignore the world, we betray the word; if we ignore the word, we have nothing to bring to the world," he said.
The WEA was not a member of the WCC, he said, partly because of structural differences between the bodies and partly because of some "historical and deeply-felt issues". The way ahead, he said, was "to find connections around issues" such as the northern Uganda crisis on which there was agreement.
Responding to a question about evangelism and proselytism, he said that the desire to see personal conversion was "at the heart of the evangelical movement". Nevertheless, he added, "We need to work on best practices about how we engage in evangelism."
Rev. Dr Michael Ntumy, chairman of The Church of Pentecost in Ghana, made an impassioned plea for closer connections between Pentecostal and WCC churches. He referred to the origins of Pentecostal congregations a century ago, many of them the result of acrimonious separations from old churches. "Although time does not necessarily heal all divisions, 100 years is long enough," he said.
In the Assembly, he said, he had observed "the beauty of confessional diversity". He praised the strong emphasis in WCC churches on the social gospel, but said that "the Pentecostal emphasis on the proclamation of the gospel is an area WCC churches do not emphasize enough".
If Pentecostal, WCC churches and the Roman Catholic Church were to come together, he said, "We would become a spiritual colossus in the hands of God". He concluded, "Our doors are open; come, let's talk."
Rev. Dr Norberto Saracco of the Good News Evangelical Church in Argentina, spoke of the ecumenical advances made in Latin America at the initiative of evangelical and Pentecostal churches, and of the growth of non-denominational churches.
"In Latin America, we are entering into a post-Pentecostal era, which will create better conditions for ecumenical dialogue," he said. Referring to the text of his later speech to a plenary session on church unity, he said, "For evangelical churches, unity is not based on the recognition of an hierarchical authority, nor on dogmas, not on theological agreements, nor on alliances between institutions. We have to accept that that way of doing ecumenism has gone as far as it can."
He praised the Latin America plenary session the previous day, which had stressed the severe social and economic problems of the region. "The great majority of Pentecostal churches have a serious and profound commitment to the struggles of our people," he said.
He said that evangelical churches had revised antagonistic positions they had taken towards churches connected with the ecumenical movement, and had asked their pardon. He called for an "ecumenical simplicity" that would "help an ecumenism that has come to a standstill to break out of its inertia".
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