Prophetic pentecostalism: the case, challenges and hopes
by Luis Aranguiz Kahn.
“Prophetic Pentecostalism” is the name that a particular group of Pentecostal believers put to distinguish themselves from the main Pentecostal branch in Chile. So, what was the difference? In first place, it is necessary to say that Pentecostals in Chile has been mainly conservative in terms of politics. Before the coup d’etat of Pinochet, they used to declare themselves “apolitical” to avoid the political struggle between the strong leftwing winds that ultimately took Allende to presidency in 1970 and the rightwing counterpart.
In the middle of this complex political context, appeared a different kind of Pentecostal that was not apolitical but openly leftist. Highly influenced by Liberation Theology, they then faced the dictatorship and at the same time went against the general Pentecostal tide. Meanwhile in 1974 many important leaders of the biggest Pentecostals churches of the country signed a public letter supporting Pinochet, this little group was resisting in its denomination (Mision Iglesia Pentecostal – MIP) and its communities.
Prophetic Pentecostals were also involved in ecumenical activity, something very strange to find in Pentecostals of that time given the many prejudices about the World Council of Churches and the suspicion of some kind of Marxist influence inside it. Those were times of a deep split among Christians. Chile, as a post-colonial State was largely influenced by USA not only in political terms, but also political, cultural and therefore religious.
In such a context in which all power was in hands of military government and where was furious persecution over the dissidents of the dictatorship, to still hold different ideas was a very brave act. In this sense, prophetic Pentecostals deserve all respect and they should be taken as an example of bravery and Christian commitment with the poor, persecuted, tortured, even killed person. No doubt, every Christian who identifies himself with no neoliberal values should study this case.
However, there is a challenge that prophetic Pentecostalism do to those who really want to make a relation between Pentecostalism and politics. There are many studies that tries to establish or define what “pentecostal identity” is, it is still a big issue specially related to this case, though. In fact, this group was very militant in its struggle against dictatorship. They resisted in many ways facing poverty, helping the persecuted, etc.
Nonetheless, according to testimonials and even the study of Kamsteeg, in some point some of them not even felt Pentecostals at all. Somehow they understood Pentecostalism in other sense, that is, the gifts of the Spirit as prophetic qualities for political struggle but forgot the primary sense of those gifts as well. If we take a look to this kind of Pentecostalism today, we sadly and harshly would find they barely exist. Of course the little denomination MIP still remains, but the ideas they promoted before are not visible neither relevant today. In my view, they didn’t have foresight to think and adapt their ideas to a new context.
Then, we have two challenges. First one is to go deeper on what is Pentecostal identity. To adopt a political point of view should not make us transform our faith or our churches only in a mere kind of platform for political struggle. Our faith should be always the fountain of strength, and when I say “faith”, I’m not only thinking on Christian faith but in the particular Pentecostal way of living Christian faith. In other words: to speak in tongues is not incompatible with thinking in tongues and doing social activity.
Second, we need to have the ability to think politically taking in account our own context. I know this is more common in countries of Global North. However, in Global South we are still in the back of discussions. This can be because we still are in a process of producing an incipient theological thinking on political field. Many of our churches are still fighting to resolve whether salvation can be lost or not. So, to those who try to discuss other kind of issues can be a little bit difficult to adapt themselves to their brothers and sisters. Besides, in general Pentecostal and charismatic churches in Latin America are taking very strong positions aligned with rightwing parties. Nothing unknown, considering they have had a sadly tradition in this point. We need, more than ever, to be capable of thinking about our Imperial context, our post-colonial position in the world-economy and see how this invisible powers damage human beings in diary life at the same time we preach the health and salvation in Jesus Christ.
So, what’s the hope? Prophetic Pentecostalism undoubtedly was an answer in a very difficult time for Chile. However, this is other time. Their experience may be useful for other Pentecostal brothers and sisters. Our duty is to take the best of them, work hard over it and try to develop a new prophetic Pentecostalism that be highly compromised with our society not only marching or protesting publicly, but specially doing that protest in/with the community of the believers for all people who are desperated due to the cruelty of our domination structures. We need to speak in tongues again as the old saints did, in the middle of the misery and dust of the poorest neighborhoods of the country but this time with the consciousness of the empire we have over us and with the faith that Christ, however, is the King of kings and Lord of lords.
LUIS ARÁNGUIZ KAHN holds a degree in Spanish Literature and a minor in theology from the Catholic University of Chile, and is currently completing a master’s degree in International Studies at the University of Santiago, Chile. He has worked academically in texts and lectures on literature and religion, evangelical analysis of political discourse in Chile and my master’s thesis will be in the general field of evangelicals and international politics. Luis comes from a family of traditional Chilean Pentecostalism and was a university leader at a Pentecostal youth group and a preacher at his local congregation. He is the editor of Pensamiento Pentecostal.