Pentecostals, the Church and Justice

by Elizabeth D. Rios, Ed.D. D.Min (ABD).

Pentecostalism has often been accused of being withdrawn from social and political concerns due to an either/or mentality that erroneously makes people feel like they have to choose between evangelism, personal salvation and political engagement.  When we look at the Pentecostal movement in its early days we see that there not be such an ultimatum to choose. It is not either/or but both/and.

In my research, I found that in addition to this mindset, lack of knowledge by those in positions of power in the church on things such as how justice is biblical, how civic advocacy is not the same as political campaigning and even their own Pentecostal history has contributed to the passivity of Pentecostals to take a step toward advocating for justice. Interestingly enough, the Pentecostal movement has always thrived among the underprivileged and its success was in how they made leaders out of the very people overlooked and undervalued in society.

Dr. Raymond Rivera would often quip in his office at the Latino Pastoral Action Center in NYC, Pentecostal churches turned the janitor into the Pastor and the housekeeper into the Deacon. This in itself was a prophetic and political activity which challenged power structures and hierarchies, as they elevated the lowly and raised up the oppressed. The Pentecostal church in and of itself stood as not only a beacon of hope but a political declaration to surrounding culture that through the power of the Holy Spirit, they made treasure out of what society deemed as trash.

Some churches are known for having produced leaders that went on to make significant contributions to the movement and in their communities, other churches were known to produce leaders that shook the very foundations of their cities by involving themselves in movements of peace and justice, and still others were so passive the community did not even know they existed.  What I’ve found to be true is that this happens because some pastors used their pulpit and classrooms for discipleship that focused not only on who they were being made into as new creations but how they were expected to live out Christ-center practices as citizens. Thus the church in the life of a believer is crucial for their formation not just spiritually but civically. Essentially, where you go to church matters.

Researchers Nathan Todd and Anne Rufa stated, “Understandings of social justice do not develop in a vacuum, and many social settings such as families, schools, and religious congregations provide a rich context for social justice development.”* Therefore, I argue that the church is pivotal to the making of justice crusaders.

However, a pastor, planter, leader does not know what they do not know. Unless exposed to Pentecostal history that discusses the origins of Pentecostalism as a movement of the marginalized in a variety of contexts, they will buy into the nationalistic ideology that has pervaded our westernized view of evangelicalism. If not taught about how in the early 1900s the move of the Spirit was very much political in nature by empowering disciples to stand against inequality while being victimized themselves, they will believe the narrative always taught, evangelism is the only purpose of the church.

Dario Lopez Rodriguez states,

“The God of life is the God who loves and defends life, and liberates human beings from all oppression. In this sense, for Pentecostals who have been liberated by God from the chains of oppression, it should not be strange that they be involved in the defense of the dignity of all human beings as God’s creations. This is a concrete form of living in the Spirit, and for this reason, they must denounce all forms of personal, social and structural sin.”**

Hence, Pentecostal pastors and leaders, use your worship services, your education rooms, your table fellowship as labs not only to hear about how God is working in the lives of your people but to pastor and teach them how to think and act in today’s world from a Jesus centered, practice-based perspective. In this way, discipleship becomes a means of political engagement and people energized by the Spirit are formed into defenders of human dignity committed to both spiritual and social transformation. The rise of the both/and movement has begun.

Rev. Dr. Elizabeth Rios is the Founder of the Passion Center, a justice-oriented faith-based community helping people stand up and live out the gospel mandate of loving God, loving themselves and loving their neighbor in Miramar, FL. Find out more at www.ThePassionCenter.org and www.ElizabethRios.com

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ska%cc%88rmavbild-2017-01-06-kl-21-17-02Pentecostals & Charismatics for Peace & Justice is a multicultural, gender inclusive, and ecumenical organization that promotes peace, justice, and reconciliation work among Pentecostal and Charismatic Christians around the world. If you like what we do, please become a member!

References


*N.R. Todd and A.K. Rufa, 2013. “Social Justice and Religious Participation: A Qualitative Investigation of Christian Perspectives.” American Journal of Community Psychology 51 (3/4): 315-31, accessed November 12, 2018 doi: 10.1007/s10464-012-9552-4.

**Dario Lopez Rodriguez, 2011. “The God of Life and the Spirit of Life: The Social and Political Dimension of Life in the Spirit.” Studies in World Christianity, (17.1) 1-11, accessed September 4, 2018, doi:10.3366/swc.2011.0002.


Cover photo: Rural church in South Africa, by Micael Grenholm

Living Generously

Poverty is one of the most pressing issues in the world today. Despite our best efforts we still have a very long way to go. Children continue to die of hunger, people still make the choice between food and education, some will never have the opportunity to fulfill their potential, simply because there’s not enough.

In an era when it has been reported by the bank, Credit Suisse in November 2017, that the world’s richest 1% own half the world’s wealth, the other side of the coin is that the 3.5 billion poorest adults each have assets of less than $10,000. These people, who account for 70% of the world’s working age population, own just 2.7% of the global wealth.

None of us can fail to notice that there are crises at the gates of every culture and nation. War and famine produce refugees in numbers that are untenable. Our broken economies are driven by the greed of those for whom the almighty dollar has far greater value than the life of one small child, one refugee, one trafficked woman, one homeless person.

Not the least of our problems is the lack of good leadership. When the prophet Daniel was interpreting King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream about his future insanity, he pleaded with him to change his ways (Daniel 4:27) in order to avoid the catastrophic effect of his pride. His key point was that he ‘break from his wicked past and be merciful to the poor’. Integral to really good leadership is mercy for the poor. Continue reading Living Generously

The Pentecostal “Angel of Mercy” During the Armenian Genocide

by Darrin J. Rodgers, originally posted at AG News and Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center.

An estimated 800,000 to 1,500,000 ethnic Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire (present day Turkey) were systematically rounded up and killed by Ottoman authorities between the years 1915 and 1918. The Armenian Genocide, as it came to be known, is the second-most studied case of genocide, following the Jewish Holocaust.

Newspapers around the world reported on the suffering endured by the mostly Christian Armenians. Right in the midst of the conflict was Maria A. Gerber (1858-1917), an early Pentecostal missionary who had established an orphanage in Turkey for Armenian victims.

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Gerber was born in Switzerland, where she was raised with 11 siblings by Mennonite parents. As a child, she did not have an interest in spiritual things, because she saw her mother weep when she read her Bible. She thought that Scripture must be the cause of sadness.

Gerber was a carefree child and loved to sing and dance. But, at age 12, she was stricken with multiple ailments, including rheumatic fever, heart trouble, tuberculosis, and dropsy. The doctor’s prognosis was not good — Gerber only had a short time to live.

Fear gripped Gerber’s heart. She had never committed her life to the Lord. She knew that if she died, she would not go to heaven. Gerber cried out, “Jesus, I want you to save me from my sins.” Immediately, she felt peace deep inside her soul. She was ready to die.

But God had other plans for the young girl. Gerber quickly recovered from her incurable illness, much to everyone’s surprise. Gerber’s mother had been so confident that her daughter was on death’s doorstep that she had already given away all of her clothing. Her mother scrounged around and found clothes for Gerber.

Gerber shared her testimony of salvation and healing at school and in surrounding villages. She found her calling. She read Matthew 28:18 and sensed that verse was meant for her: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me [Jesus]. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…”

Gerber’s faith deepened as she blossomed into a young woman. She received training as a nurse, but in her heart she wanted to become a missionary. In 1889 a remarkable revival featuring healing and speaking in tongues came to her town in Switzerland. In her 1917 autobiography, Passed Experiences, Present Conditions, Hope for the Future, Gerber recounted the rapturous praise and numerous miracles that occurred in that early Swiss revival.

The young nurse wanted training for missions work and, in 1891, she headed for Chicago, where she attended Moody Bible Institute. By the mid-1890s, she heard about massacres of Armenian Christians that were occurring in the Ottoman Empire. Gerber and a friend, Rose Lambert, felt God calling them to minister to the Armenian widows and orphans.

Gerber and Lambert arrived in Turkey in 1898 and began working with the besieged Armenians. They began caring for orphans and purchased camel loads of cotton for widows to make garments for the orphans and for sale. Donors from America and Europe began supporting these two audacious women who had ventured into very dangerous territory to do the Lord’s work.

Gerber, in particular, found support among wealthy German Mennonites who lived in Russia. In 1904, they funded the construction of a series of large buildings to house hundreds of orphans and widows. Zion Orphans’ Home, located near Caesarea, became a hub of relief work and ministry in central Turkey. When persecution of Armenians intensified in 1915, resulting in the extermination of most Christian Armenians from Turkey, Zion Orphans’ Home was ready to help those in distress.

Gerber identified with the emerging Pentecostal movement as early as 1910. This should not be surprising, as she had experienced her own Pentecost 21 years earlier. The Assemblies of God supported her missions efforts, and numerous letters by Gerber were published in the Pentecostal Evangel. Assemblies of God leader D. W. Kerr, in the foreword to Gerber’s 1917 autobiography, wrote that he had known Gerber for 26 years and that her story will encourage readers “to greater self-denial and a deeper surrender.”

Gerber suffered a stroke and passed away on Dec. 6, 1917. Gerber’s obituary, published in the Pentecostal Evangel, stated that she was known as “the angel of mercy to the downtrodden Armenians.”

It would have been easy for Gerber to ignore the persecution of Armenians. The massacres were on the other side of the world. She could have stayed safe in America or in Europe. But Gerber followed God’s call and spent almost 20 years ministering to refugees who faced persecution and death. Few people today remember her name. But according to early Assemblies of God leaders, Maria Gerber personified what it meant to be Pentecostal.

Read one of Gerber’s articles, “Great Results Seen in Answer to Prayer,” on page 4 of the Dec. 4, 1915, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.

Also featured in this issue:

• “Divine Love: The Supreme Test,” by Arch P. Collins

• “What Think Ye of Christ?” by M. M. Pinson

And many more!

Click here to read this issue now.

Read Maria A. Gerber’s obituary in the Jan. 5, 1918, edition of the Pentecostal Evangel (p. 13).

Pentecostal Evangel archived editions courtesy of the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center.

Darrin J. Rodgers has served as director of the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center (FPHC) since 2005. He earned a master’s degree in theological studies from Assemblies of God Theological Seminary and a juris doctorate from the University of North Dakota School of Law. He previously served at the David du Plessis Archive and the McAlister Library at Fuller Theological Seminary. He is the author of Northern Harvest, a history of Pentecostalism in North Dakota. His FPHC portfolio includes acquisitions, editing Assemblies of God Heritage magazine, and conducting oral history interviews. His wife, Desiree, is an ordained AG minister.

ska%cc%88rmavbild-2017-01-06-kl-21-17-02Pentecostals & Charismatics for Peace & Justice is a multicultural, gender inclusive, and ecumenical organization that promotes peace, justice, and reconciliation work among Pentecostal and Charismatic Christians around the world. If you like what we do, please become a member!

Jesus and Nationalistic Violence

by Greg Boyd, originally posted at his website ReKnew.

Throughout the Old Testament, we find Israel spoken of as God’s “chosen nation.” The Israelites were to be a nation of priests whom God wanted to use to unite the world under him (Ex 19:6). Since nationalism and violence inevitably go hand in hand, as Jacque Ellul and others have noted, the covenant God made with Israel naturally included protection from their enemies in exchange for their compliance with his law (e.g. Deut. 27-28).

By the time Jesus came on the scene, however, Israel had fallen into exile. For most Jews, this could only be explained as an aspect of a covenantal curse. They were being punished because of their disobedience. Though they were in their land, they were yet in spiritual exile. (This is the argument made throughout the work of N.T. Wright. See his The New Testament and the People of God, pages 268-272.) Yet, based on a number of OT prophecies, most Jews continued to look for a future Messiah who would restore Israel’s loyalty to Yahweh, lead Israel in a military conquest over her Roman oppressors and make Israel once again a sovereign nation, thereby demonstrating to the world the supremacy of Yahweh and their own chosen status under him. In other words, many if not most Jews of Jesus’ time wanted and expected a militaristic and nationalistic Messiah.

Though Jesus’ miracles gave people reason to believe he was the Messiah, he refused to play this role. In fact, though it is deeply woven into the OT, Jesus repudiated Jewish nationalism and the violence that came with it. This much is clear in his inaugural sermon given in his hometown synagogue. Jesus read from Isaiah 61, a passage that declared that God’s anointed one would bring good news to the poor, set captives free and declare the year of the Lord’s favor. Amazingly, Jesus announced that this prophecy was in the process of being fulfilled in him (Lk 4:18-19). Continue reading Jesus and Nationalistic Violence

Prominent Biblical Scholars on Women in Ministry

by Marg Mowczko, originally posted on her website (which we highly recommend!).

Some Christians think that only people who have a “loose approach to scripture” can believe that women should be leaders and teachers in the church. I strongly doubt that any evangelical Christian would regard these scholars and theologians as having a loose approach to scripture, and yet each of them believes that appropriately gifted women should be leaders and teachers in the church. Here is a sample of various statements made by these prominent scholars (some of whom are now deceased.)

F.F. BRUCE (1910-1990)

F.F. Bruce was the Rylands Professor of Biblical Criticism and Exegesis at the University of Manchester, and belonged to the Open Brethren.

“An appeal to first principles in our application of the New Testament might demand the recognition that when the Spirit, in his sovereign good pleasure, bestows varying gifts on individual believers, these gifts are intended to be exercised for the well-being of the whole church. If he manifestly withheld the gifts of teaching or leadership from Christian women, then we should accept that as evidence of his will (1 Cor. 12:11). But experience shows that he bestows these and other gifts, with ‘undistinguishing regard’, on men and women alike―not on all women, of course, nor yet on all men. That being so, it is unsatisfactory to rest with a halfway house in this issue of women’s ministry, where they are allowed to pray and prophesy, but not to teach or lead.”
F.F. Bruce, “Women in the Church: A Biblical Survey,” Christian Brethren Review 33 (1982), 7-14, 11-12. (Source) 

GORDON D. FEE (B. 1934)

Professor Emeritus of New Testament at Regent College, ordained in the Assemblies of God

“It seems a sad commentary on the church and on its understanding of the Holy Spirit that “official” leadership and ministry is allowed to come from only one half of the community of faith. The New Testament evidence is that the Holy Spirit is gender inclusive, gifting both men and women, and thus potentially setting the whole body free for all the parts to minister and in various ways to give leadership to the others. Thus my issue in the end is not a feminist agenda—an advocacy of women in ministry. Rather, it is a Spirit agenda, a plea for the releasing of the Spirit from our strictures and structures so that the church might minister to itself and to the world more effectively.”
“The Priority of Spirit Gifting for Church Ministry”, Discovering Biblical Equality Complementarity without Hierarchy. Ronald W. Pierce, Rebecca Merrill Groothuis, Gordon D. Fee (eds) (Leicester: IVP Academic, 2005), 254.

CRAIG S. KEENER (B. 1960)

Professor of New Testament at Asbury Theological Seminary, ordained in an African-American Baptist church but serves in settings with a range of traditions.

” . . . we Pentecostals and charismatics affirm that the minister’s authority is inherent in the minister’s calling and ministry of the Word, not the minister’s person. In this case, gender should be irrelevant as a consideration for ministry–for us as it was for Paul. . . . Today we should affirm those whom God calls, whether male or female, and encourage them in faithfully learning God’s Word. We need to affirm all potential laborers, both men and women, for the abundant harvest fields.”
Was Paul For or Against Women in Ministry?, Enrichment Journal, Spring 2001. (Source)

I. HOWARD MARSHALL (1934-2015)

Professor Emeritus of New Testament Exegesis at the University of Aberdeen, belonged to the Evangelical Methodist Church

“Much anguish is felt by women whose God-given talents have been denied expression. This is due to the inability of complementarians to provide any coherent and persuasive reasons for denying women these [ministry] positions in church—women are asked to accept a scriptural command simply because it is God’s will even if they cannot understand why it is so. . . . [Anguish is also caused by] the arbitrariness of the way in which the ruling is put into effect, with all the going beyond what Scripture actually says and the casuistry that is employed regarding the limits of what women may and may not do.”
Comments made at a panel discussion at the Evangelical Theological Society 2010 meeting. (Source) 

LEON MORRIS (1914-2006)

New Testament scholar, ordained Anglican minister 

In his commentary on Paul’s letter to the Romans, Morris stated that “Phoebe is certainly called a deacon” in Romans 16:1; and Junia along with Andronicus (mentioned in Romans 16:7) were “outstanding among the apostles which might mean that the apostles held them in high esteem or that they were apostles, and notable apostles at that.” Morris adds, “The former understanding seems less likely . . .” The Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988), 529 & 534. Morris also wrote essays advocating for women in ministry, and he welcomed women at Ridley Theological College, Melbourne, where he was Principal from 1964 until his retirement in 1976.

JOHN STOTT (1921-2011)

Anglican minister, theologian, one of the principal authors of the Lausanne Covenant in 1974

“If God endows women with spiritual gifts (which he does), and thereby calls them to exercise their gifts for the common good (which he does), the Church must recognize God’s gifts and calling, must make appropriate spheres of service available to women, and should ‘ordain’ (that is commission and authorize) them to exercise their God-given ministry, at best in team situations. Our Christian doctrines of Creation and Redemption tell us that God wants his gifted people to be fulfilled, not frustrated, and his church to be enriched by their service.”
J.R.W Stott, Issues facing Christianity Today (Basingstoke: Marshalls, 1984), 254.

BEN WITHERINGTON III (B. 1951)

Professor of New Testament Interpretation at Asbury Theological Seminary, ordained Methodist pastor

“We need to keep steadily in mind that what determines or should determine the leadership structures in the church is not gender but rather gifts and graces of the Holy Spirit. The family of faith is not identical with the physical family, and gender is no determinant of roles in it. Gender of course does affect some roles in the Christian family, but that is irrelevant when it comes to the discussion of the leadership structure of the church. This is why we should not be surprised to find even in Paul’s letters examples of women teachers, evangelist, prophetesses, deacons, and apostles. Paul is not one who is interested in baptizing the existing fallen patriarchal order and calling it good. One of the tell tale signs of Paul’s views on such matters can be seen in what he says about baptism— it is not a gender specific sign that we have for the new covenant unlike the one for the old covenant, and Paul adds that in Christ there is no ‘male and female’ just as there is no Jew or Gentile, slave or free. The implications of this are enormous. The change in the covenant sign signals the change in the nature of the covenant when it comes to men and women.”
Why Arguments against Women in Ministry aren’t Biblical, on Dr Witherington’s website The Bible and Culture here

N.T. WRIGHT (B. 1948) 

New Testament scholar, Anglican Bishop of Durham (2003-2010)

“It is the women who come first to the tomb, who are the first to see the risen Jesus, and are the first to be entrusted with the news that he has been raised from the dead. This is of incalculable significance. Mary Magdalene and the others are the apostles to the apostles. We should not be surprised that Paul calls a woman named Junia an apostle in Romans 16.7. If an apostle is a witness to the resurrection, there were women who deserved that title before any of the men. . . . Nor is this promotion of women a totally new thing with the resurrection. As in so many other ways, what happened then picked up hints and pinpoints from earlier in Jesus’ public career. I think in particular of the woman who anointed Jesus (without here going into the question of who it was and whether it happened more than once); as some have pointed out, this was a priestly action which Jesus accepted as such.”
“Women’s Service in the Church: The Biblical Basis”, a conference paper for the Symposium, Men, Women and the Church, St John’s College, Durham, September 4 2004. (Source)

MANY MORE . . . 

Numerous other evangelical scholars also believe that the Bible, correctly interpreted, does not restrict gifted women from any ministry function or position. There are too many to mention them all, but here are just a few: Kenneth Bailey, Gilbert Bilezikian, Michael Bird, Craig A. Evans. R.T. France, Kevin Giles, Joel B. Green, Stanley Grenz, Richard Hays, David Instone-Brewer, Walter Kaiser, Kenneth Kantzer, John R. Kohlenberger III, Richard N. Longenecker, Scot McKnightRoger NicoleRoger E. OlsonPhilip Barton Payne, Stanley Porter, Howard Snyder, John Stackhouse, etc. (I have chosen to mention only male scholars to avoid an accusation of women being self-serving.)

Finally, a quotation from Dallas Willard (1935-2013),

“It is not the rights of women to occupy `official’ ministerial roles, nor their equality to men in those roles, that set the terms of their service to God and their neighbors. It is their obligations that do so – obligations that derive from their human abilities empowered by divine gifting.”
How I Changed my Mind about Women in Leadership (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010), 10 (italics by the author).

Who else can be added to the list of well-known respected evangelical scholars who advocate for women in ministry?

Marg Mowczko lives north of Sydney, Australia, in a house filled with three generations of family. She strongly believes that if we are in Christ we are part of the New Creation and part of a community where old social paradigms of hierarchies and caste or class systems have no place (2 Cor. 5:17Gal. 3:28). Marg has a BTh from the Australian College of Ministries and an MA with a specialisation in early Christian and Jewish studies from Macquarie University. You can find many resources about Christian egalitarianism on her website.

ska%cc%88rmavbild-2017-01-06-kl-21-17-02Pentecostals & Charismatics for Peace & Justice is a multicultural, gender inclusive, and ecumenical organization that promotes peace, justice, and reconciliation work among Pentecostal and Charismatic Christians around the world. If you like what we do, please become a member!

The Point of Speaking in Tongues in Acts 2

by Craig Keener, originally posted on his blog.

Pentecost (Acts 2:1) was a significant festival in the Jewish calendar, offering the first fruits of grain to the Lord (Lev. 23:16). Its significance in this narrative, however, may be especially that it was one of the major pilgrimage festivals, when Jewish people who lived all over the world came back to visit Jerusalem. This sets the stage for the experience of the Spirit that will drive the church in Acts across all cultural barriers.

The narrative opens with God’s people in unity (Acts 2:1). They have been praying together (1:14), and prayer often precedes the coming of the Spirit in Luke-Acts (Luke 3:21-22; 11:13; Acts 4:31; 8:15).

Suddenly, they experience signs of the Spirit. The first two signs touch key senses, hearing and sight. They evoke biblical theophanies, perhaps also as foretastes of the future age. First, they hear a wind, perhaps prefiguring the promised wind of God’s Spirit that would bring new life to God’s people in Ezekiel 37:9-14. Second, they witness the appearance of fire, which was often associated with future judgment (cf. Luke 3:9, 16-17).

The third sign, however—speaking in tongues—is the most important of the three. This is clear because it occurs again at two other outpourings of the Spirit in Acts, although no one present on those occasions recognizes the languages spoken (Acts 10:46; 19:6). On this first occasion, though, their experience is also important because some people do recognize the languages and it therefore forms the bridge to Peter’s sermon. The crowds hear this sound (2:6) and ask what this phenomenon means (2:12). Peter goes on to explain that this tongues-speaking means that the promised time of the Spirit has dawned (2:16-18). Continue reading The Point of Speaking in Tongues in Acts 2

Brazil’s Pentecostal Party: From Environmentalism to Alt Right in Five Years

by Gutierres Fernandes Siqueira.

How can I explain Brazilian politics to the foreign public? This is not a simple task. The famous Bossa Nova’s musician, Tom Jobim (1927-1994), said once that Brazil is not for beginners.

The same thing can be said about the complex relationship of Pentecostal evangelicals with national politics. Since redemocratization in 1985, Brazilian politics has gone beyond the traditional division between conservatives and progressives.

For example, President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, who ruled Brazil between 1995 and 2002, was a Marxist sociologist early in his career in the 1960s and later became a Social Democrat in the 1980s. However, his government in the late 1990s had an economic management marked by classical liberalism.

Lula da Silva, left-wing president supported by evangelicals

Another example is President Fernando Collor that governed Brazil between 1990 and 1992. He was himself elected as a right-wing leader, but his administration confiscated investments in a disastrous economic plan, something unthinkable coming from a conservative politician. The last example that we can give is President Lula da Silva. This President, that governed Brazil from 2002 to 2010, is a leftist leader, but several right-wing parties have supported him, including most evangelical politicians.

The division between right and left in Brazil has  been always very nebulous. This started to change in 2018. The last Brazilian election was very similar to the North American electoral model.

Continue reading Brazil’s Pentecostal Party: From Environmentalism to Alt Right in Five Years

Pentecostals & Charismatics for Peace & Justice