Globalization and Ecumenism:
A Search for Human Solidarity, with Reference to
Pentecostalism/Charismatism in Hong Kong
Lap-yan Kung, Ph.D.
Globalization is a term employed to describe "a
process (or sets of processes) which embodies a transformation in the spatial
organization of social relations and transactions- assessed in terms of their
extensity, intensity, velocity and impact- generating transcontinental or
interregional flows and networks of activity, interaction and the exercise of
Thus, globalization is never restricted to the contemporary era, that is, since
the late 1960s, but long before the technological advances, world religions
unquestionably constitute one of the most powerful and significant forms of the
globalization of culture in the pre-modern era, and even possibly now. One of
the differences between the pre-modern and contemporary is simply the degree of
interconnectedness, but this degree of difference results in a completely
Kofi Annan, the United Nations' General-Secretary, says that "globalization has
an immense potential to improve people's lives, but it can disrupt- and destroy-
them as well. Those who do not accept its pervasive, all-encompassing ways are
often left behind. It is our task to prevent this; to ensure that globalization
leads to progress, prosperity and security for all."
Surely, this is not simply the task of the United Nations, but rather the task
of all people of goodwill. If so, can the Christian church take up this task?
Unlike Hinduism and Confucianism, Christianity
itself is always global-oriented, due to its ideology of mission. It is not
exaggerated to say that Christian mission is a kind of global movement.
Nevertheless, this Christian global movement is not only confined to the concern
of saving souls and planting churches, but also it is a cultural and
socio-political movement. Put theologically, Christian mission is about the
evangelization of God's Kingdom.
It not only evangelizes, but also creates a new culture of life, that is, a life
characterized by solidarity in the understanding of co-responsibility, communion
and friendship. This is what we call ecumenism. Ecumenism is more than a
concern for the unity of the church. Rather it is a unity that brings the
churches together in solidarity and communion with one another as well as the
people that the churches serve.
But we have to admit that the history of Christian mission is not always like
this. It is both promising and disruptive. This is the experience that we,
Asian Christians, experience in our countries.
If the central Christian message is a message of humanization,
a critical attitude towards the practice of Christian mission should be taken in
order that in the era of globalization it would not be an agency of
neo-colonialism, but rather an agency of liberation. I suggest that a spirit of
solidarity associated with ecumenism is a Christian witness and challenge to
globalization. Pentecostalism would be particularly chosen as an example for
reference; because I believe that any ecumenical study is inadequate without
taking Pentecostalism seriously (I will further explain this point later).
Globalization in Hong Kong
There is no doubt that globalization brings the belief that "no
human is an island" into realization. Only a few can escape from its impact.
Nevertheless, it is naïve to hold that globalization is simply a matter of
Westernization. Of course the Western nations, and more generally, the
industrial countries still have far more influence over world affairs than do
the poorer states. But globalization is becoming increasingly de-centered, and
its effects are felt as much in Western countries as elsewhere. This is true of
the global financial system, and of changes affecting the nature of government
itself. What one could call "reverse colonization" is becoming more and more
common. "Reverse colonization" means that non-Western countries influence
developments in the West.
Examples abound- such as the Latinizing of Los Angeles, the emergence of a
globally oriented high-tech sector in India, or the selling of Brazilian
television programs to Portugal. Although globalization is led from the West,
bears the strong imprint of American political and economic power, and is highly
uneven in its consequences, globalization is not just the dominance of the West
over the rest; it affects the United States as it does other countries. On the
other hand, some argue that economic globalization is bringing about a
denationalization of economies through the establishment of transnational
networks of production, trade and finance.
As S. Strange puts it, "the impersonal forces of world markets… are now more
powerful than the states to whom ultimate political authority over society and
economy is supposed to belong… the declining authority of states is reflected in
a growing diffusion of authority to other institutions and associations, and to
local and regional bodies."
Neo-Marxists like W. Grieder and K. Ohmae consider that contemporary
globalization represents the triumph of an oppressive global capitalism.
It creates a world of winners and losers, a few on the fast track to prosperity,
and the majority condemned to a life of misery and despair. The old North-South
division is argued to be an increasing anachronism as a new global division of
labor replaces the traditional core-periphery structure with a more complex
architecture of economic power. The growing economic marginalization of many
"Third World" states as trade and investment flows within the rich North
intensifies to the exclusion of much of the rest of the globe. To a large
extent, this criticism is valid, but economic competition does not necessarily
produce zero-sum outcomes. While particular groups within a country may be made
worse off as a result of global competition, nearly all countries have a
comparative advantage in producing certain goods that can be exploited in the
long run. In addition, globalization is not just an economic issue. The
conditions facilitating transnational cooperation between peoples brought by
globalization pave the way for the emerging global civil society.
The complexity of globalization makes it impossible for us to pass a
simple judgment on it. Therefore, it is necessary to assess the impact of
globalization locally. Hong Kong, the city where I live and work, is chosen for
this further examination.
From an economic perspective, globalization involves an explosion of
global trade, investment and financial flows across state and regional
boundaries. The cheap labor and the labor-intensive light industries of Hong
Kong of earlier times helped her achieve industrialization by riding the tide of
international trade, investment, and finance. Nevertheless, this situation has
changed since the early 1980s. With the intensification of international trade,
investment and finance, more countries and regions (mainly south east Asia)
entered the competition for market and capital. Hong Kong finds herself less
competitive against some of the newer developing economies. An obvious example
of this is that many factories of Hong Kong have moved to China. As a result,
employment provided by manufacturing fell from around 880,000 in 1979 to 229,400
and the percentage of manufacturing in Hong Kong's gross domestic product
dropped from 23.7% in 1979 to 6.2% in 2000.
In response to the global economic changes, Hong Kong has taken the route to
transform herself from a newly industrialized economy to a world city. Tung
Chee-Hwa, the Chief Executive of Hong Kong, affirms this view and repeatedly
says, "Hong Kong should not only be a major Chinese city, but could become the
most cosmopolitan city in Asia, enjoying a status comparable to that of New York
in North America and London in Europe."
World cities are hub points of the global economy. They are key centres in the
spatial organization and articulation of production and markets and are major
sites for the concentration and accumulation of international capital.
Typically, they are characterized by a concentration of corporate headquarters,
banks and firms specializing in producer services.
The most obvious of the economic impact of globalization is the
growing gap between the very rich and the very poor. The income disparity of
Hong Kong was never small, but it has become even greater in the last two
decades. A Gini-coefficient above 0.5 indicates extremely unequal
distribution. In the 1980s, the Gini-coefficient for Hong Kong was 0.45, and in
2001, it reached 0.525.
Growing income disparity is typical of many world cities. As industries give
way to services, employment in cities like Hong Kong tends to expand at both the
high and the low end and to shrink in the middle. Lawyers, bankers, accountants
and public relations specialists get paid extremely well, while restaurant and
laundry workers, many of whom are new immigrants, can barely get by. Apart from
serious income disparity, the rate of unemployment grows higher, because a lot
of workers have been sacrificed for the economic transformation, that is, from a
newly industrialized economy to a world city. The most recent unemployment
figure is 7.7% (July, 2002), that is, one out of thirteen working people is
unemployed. On balance, Hong Kong so far has been a beneficiary of
globalization, but no one can guarantee that Hong Kong can continue to be a
beneficiary. In fact, Hong Kong has suffered serious economic difficulties
since the Asian financial crisis and it takes a much longer road for her to
rehabilitate. It is clear that globalization generates a more severe
competition among countries and even within a country than a sense of global
responsibility and solidarity.
From a socio-cultural perspective, globalization involves the
massive movement of people across state borders and the fusion of cultures on a
global scale. People movement is not new to Hong Kong. Traditionally, Hong
Kong was a major departure point for Chinese emigrants going to other parts of
the world. Since the issue of 1997 came up large numbers of Hong Kong residents
(about 7% of the population) emigrated to North America, the South Pacific and
Europe, but surprisingly, this does not cause Hong Kong a serious problem of
brain drain, because once many of them obtain their foreign passports, they
return to work in Hong Kong. In fact, the economic and business opportunities
provided in Hong Kong unmatched by other locations attracts people moving to
Hong Kong. On the other hand, for the purpose of family union, there are 150
people daily coming from China to settle in Hong Kong. Although many of them
are unskilled immigrants, they also contribute to Hong Kong in important ways.
For example, Hong Kong's birth rate has fallen steadily in the last two
decades. Without an increase in fertility, immigration is likely to be the core
element of population change. Nevertheless, most of the people in Hong Kong do
not recognize the contribution made by the immigrants. Especially since the
Asian financial crisis in 1997, people in Hong Kong put the blame on them by
condemning them as a burden for Hong Kong, for many of them live on social
benefits. Filipinos working in Hong Kong are the second group of people to be
blamed, because they are accused of taking up most of the domestic jobs.
Finding a scapegoat and a feeling of exclusiveness become one of the serious
tensions caused by globalization.
Symbols of Western consumerism- Coca-Cola, blue
jeans- are prevalent in far-off corners of the world. On the other hand, ethnic
cuisine, fashion and music from different parts of the world are now popular
fixations of Western metropolises. Hong Kong is not only a passive consumer and
conduit of international cultural products, but also becomes a producer and
exporter. Hong Kong's cultural products, be they indigenized international
products or purely local creations, have become more influential in other
places, especially, other ethnic Chinese communities. Direct satellites bring
Hong Kong "kung fu" movies, soap operas, and pop singers to ethnic Chinese
homes. The ideologies and values embedded in these products become part of the
shared consciousness of Chinese all over the world. Thus, Hong Kong has emerged
as a cultural center in the transnational Chinese public. Nevertheless, the
success of Hong Kong's cultural products is simply a success of
commercialization, because Hong Kong popular cultures are mainly dominated by a
kind of prosperity ideology (success as measured by money and wealth), an
apolitical and amoral mentality, and consumerism.
Finally, from a political perspective, the impact of globalization
refers to the tendency for political decisions and actions in one part of the
world to generate widespread reactions and consequences elsewhere. The global
movement of people, news and images along with the global flow of goods and
capital has turned many a local event into international concerns. For
instance, labor policies in one place can affect the wage levels of another, and
the environmental standard of one country can have ramifications for the quality
of air in another. Traditionally, Hong Kong was largely an apolitical
territory. "Living on borrowed time in a borrowed place",
many devoted themselves to business activities while showing little interest in
politics. Since the Tiananmen Square event in 1989 the people of Hong Kong are
more active and participatory in social issues than before. Political
globalization has not only changed the political structure of Hong Kong, but
also imposed serious constraints on China's policy toward Hong Kong. Beijing
probably wishes to impose stricter political control over Hong Kong, as it does
elsewhere in China, but its capacity to do so is seriously constrained by the
political attention that Hong Kong commands on the global political agenda. For
instance, the Hong Kong government intends to follow Beijing's move to condemn
Falun Gong, but the government is hesitant to pass any law to condemn Falun
Gong, because the issue of Falun Gong has become an international concern.
We notice from the foregoing analysis that globalization is a
long-term historical process that is fraught with contradictions. Hong Kong is
a beneficiary of globalization as well as a victim. I think this also applies
to many countries. In the following, I would like to highlight one particular
issue arising from the experience of Hong Kong in order to reflect what the
Christian community can respond, namely, the threatening otherness.
The Threatening Otherness
If globalization implies a high degree of interconnectedness, the
experience of Hong Kong shows that close interconnectedness means high
competitiveness. Competitiveness is not necessarily evil, for competitiveness
does bring improvement. It is unimaginable that there could be a society
without a sense of competitiveness. But under the domination of the market
economy, the culture generated by competitiveness seems more threatening than
motivating, because competitiveness is not simply about a description of what is
going on, but also becomes an ideology in a very business sense. This is
successfully reinforced by sports. From the most recent World Cup Soccer (2002)
held in Korea and Japan, sports are one of the most successful globalized
industries. Ideally, sports bring nations together in contexts supportive of
peace and friendship. Although this does occur, the reality is that powerful
transnational corporations have joined nation-states as major participants in
global politics. Sports have been increasingly used for economic as well as
political purposes. Because sports can capture the attention and emotions of
millions of people, corporations need symbols of success, excellence, and
productivity that they can use to create marketing handles for their products
and services and to create public goodwill for their policies and practices.
This is why corporations have invested so much money into associating their
names and logos with athletes, teams, and sport facilities. The dominant images
and messages are consistent with the interests of the major corporate sponsors,
and they tend to promote an ideology infused with capitalist themes of
individualism, competition, productivity and consumption. In nations with
market economies, sports are often associated with success and hard work.
Instead of reference to collectivism and the common good, there are references
to competition and individual achievement. Instead of an emphasis on
comradeship, there are stories showing how individuals have reached personal
goals and experienced self-fulfillment through sports. In a sense, the
vocabulary and stories that accompany sports in market economies tend to
emphasize that using competition to achieve personal success and to allocate
rewards to people is natural and normal, while alternative approaches to success
and allocating rewards are inappropriate.
Under the ideology of the market economy, those
who fail in competition would be discarded. When competitiveness is portrayed
as a fair game, those who fail are no longer considered the victims of an
unequal game, but rather reflect their inability, and therefore, society has no
responsibility to take care of them. Put bluntly, poverty is the result of
their incompetence. But we all know that globalization does not guarantee fair
competition, for the rich always have a better position. For instance, if
technology is the infrastructure of globalization, those who are able to access
to this technology are in a better position, and contrariwise, the poor are
further marginalized. Although the rich may not be the winners in all
competitions, the opportunity for the poor to do so is much less than for the
rich. But through the implicit ideological propaganda, our society gradually
accepts that survival of the fittest is the norm of relationship. As a result,
a more self-centered mentality is nurtured.
Globalization brings our world closer, and this assumes that we can
experience the diversity of human culture, but this is not always the reality.
In fact, the globalization of culture dominated by economic power makes our
world less possible or less tolerant for the existence of diversity. Ironically
our world becomes more homogeneous. Local cultures are given up for the way of
Sony, McDonalds and Coca-Cola, because they represent the signs of
modernization. Despite the fact that some local cultures can be preserved, they
probably become commercialized under the development (invasion) of tourism.
Take the example of sports again. When sports are associated with economic
power, this affects people in relatively poor nations to de-emphasize their
traditional games, and to focus their attention on sports that are largely
unrelated to their own values and experiences.
Last but not least, globalization brings with it the fragmentation
of economy and society.
Globalization increases mobility and the way in which the autonomous subsystems
of the social world are becoming independent together with the increasing
competition between high cultures that have taken separate courses in history.
When mobility has become the norm, the norms and values of the place and society
in which one was born, and practical knowledge of them lose their significance.
The future of the individual is not determined. This change has transformed
human social life. The old communal organization of the social world with its
warm nest has been replaced by the impersonal, contractual, formal order of
society. The direction of culture, which was formerly regulated by tradition,
has primarily been taken over by the individual, who has become autonomous.
Transitoriness and the contingent have become the constitutive characteristics
of our everyday culture. It has lost its organic unity and has become
segmented, like a mosaic.
A single space which can easily be surveyed has become an enchanted castle with
many niches which are unequal because they are incalculable. For a long time
politics has been an autonomous sphere of the social system. Soon the economy
made itself independent of politics. Multinational concerns have often become
more powerful than the states in which they are active. Science and technology
have developed their own drives and criteria and forms of development. Research
centers, universities and industries are autonomous domains. The media have a
cultural power which competes with the educational system. All these and
further spheres appeal to their own logic and resist a comprehensive
integration. What, then, holds all the independent systems functioning together
as a whole in society? What ties together the systems as far as meaning and
purpose? And whom should society respond to and judge among all the divergent
global claims made by each of its systems? This is what Anthony Giddens calls
the "Runaway World".
Finally, although Hong Kong is on the direction to transform itself
to be a globalized city, a globalized city, according to Tung Chee-Hwa, is
chiefly understood in terms of economic rather than global responsibility.
Thus, globalization does not bring us to share responsibility for other parts of
the world. Ironically, it leads us to be more self-centered, because our
concern is survival.
Globalization does bring us to have a close interconnectedness, but
many people, especially the poor, experience the close interconnectedness as
threatening more than positive, because they are forced to follow the so-called
globalized (capitalist) way of life. The ambiguity of globalization is its
interconnectedness and alienation. The former describes a social reality of
relationship, while the latter describes what the nature of this relationship is
about. Does this mean that we have to refuse globalization? Perhaps it is not
a matter of yes or no, because globalization is unavoidable and unstoppable.
Our concern thereby is how to make use of the interconnectedness brought by
globalization and formulate it to become a community of friendship rather than a
community of aliens. Here, I find Christian experience important.
An Alternative Global Movement
As said at the beginning, I consider that the Christian mission is a
global movement. This is an ecumenical movement, a movement of friendship.
However, I have to admit that the history of Christian mission cannot be
separated from western imperialism, but these two are not synonymous.
Ye Xiaowen (葉小文),
the head of the Religious Bureau of the Chinese government, agrees with this.
Ecumenism means communion (koinonia),
but this is not restricted to the communion among Christian communities.
Otherwise, the church would become a ghetto and betray its identity.
Theologically speaking, the church is always a sacrament.
The symbolic and instrumental value of the communion of the church is to serve
the purpose of God to gather the whole of creation under the lordship of Jesus
Christ. The church is called as a witness to the saving and liberating purpose
of God for all creation (Ephesians 3:8-11). The communion to which the Lord
calls the church is a communion for the benefit of the world, so that the world
may believe (John 17:21). The church is called as a priestly people to
intercede for the salvation of the whole world (1 Peter 2:9). The church,
therefore, is a society in the world which exists for the sake of those who are
not members of it. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “The church is the church only
when it exists for others… The church must share in the secular problems of
ordinary life, not dominating, but helping and serving.”
The communion of the church is a parable and a reality anticipating the one
humanity. It is an encouragement for every attempt to overcome any of the
barriers that divide humanity. Since the church is a sacrament the communion of
the church should be visible. Without this visible sign, the church would be
fragmented into a multitude of disconnected signs. Jurgen Moltmann writes, "The
visible coming together of visible people in a special place to do something
particular stands at the center of the church. Without the actual visible
procedure of meeting together there is no church."
This is why the unity of the church is so important.
I consider that the communion of the church is based on the
experience of reconciliation with God. 2 Cor 5:18-19 tells us that the ministry
of Jesus Christ is to reconcile humans with God, and the church is called to
continue the ministry of reconciliation. Reconciliation is about a change of
relationship from hostility to harmony. I call this change friendship. God
invites humans to be his friends. Does this mean that God needs friendship? On
the one hand, the answer is no, because the Trinitarian God is a relational God,
and therefore, God does not need something other than himself (herself) to have
an experience of communion. On the other hand, the answer is yes, because the
Trinitarian God is a relational God, and therefore, God is open to
relationship. The openness of God allows humans (the creation) to share his
(her) trinitarian mystical love and relationship. The friendship of God with
humans is fully revealed in the life of Jesus Christ. Jesus' friendship with
the sinners and tax-collectors of his time breaks down the barriers of the
equality principle. That is to say, the friendship of the “Wholly Other” God
which comes to meet us, makes open friendship with people who are “other” not
merely possible but also interesting, in a profoundly human sense. More
importantly, Jesus' friendship is not simply for his own sake, but for the sake
of his friends, and he even died for them (John 15:14-15). It is interesting to
note that in John's eyes, Jesus died for his friends rather than for sinners.
The latter still has a sense of inequality, but the former completely changes
the God-humans relationship.
The friendship that Jesus shows is an acceptance
of others in their difference. Other people’s difference is not defined against
the yardstick of our own identity and our prejudice about people who are not
like us. The difference is experienced in the practical encounter which
mutually reveals what we are and what the other is. Therefore, friendship is
not about identifying who my friends are, but about sharing my friendship with
others. This is a friendship characterized by solidarity, inclusiveness, and
freedom. The community of Christians thereby can interpret itself not only as
an assembly of believers, but also as a society of friends. The motive for this
is not the moral purpose of changing the world. It is festal joy over the
Kingdom of God which, with the name of Jesus and in his Spirit, has thrown
itself wide open for “the others”. This is the nature of the ecumenical
The history of the World Council of Churches (WCC) is a concrete
example actualizing the unity of the church.
The WCC was created in a merger of two prominent movements: Faith and Order and
Life and Work. The continuing existence of these two currents is often
recognized; various agenda items within the movement are ascribed to this or
that current. While the doctrinal dialogues are assigned to Faith and Order,
social, economic and political issues are understood to be the concerns of Life
and Work. Various attempts at overcoming the division have been made. The
Sixth Assembly of the WCC (1983) called for the development of a conciliar
process for justice, peace and the integrity of creation. The intention was to
bind together the so-called socio-political issues with the ecclesiological ones
and thus effect a unity of faith and life. Within this search for conciliarity,
the unity of the church is more than about doctrinal clarification, but also
should include and be tested by a reference to God's basic attitude towards
creation and history, and this would help the church to discover in depth the
unity already existing and facilitate growth into a wider unity. But this
combination is not to promote a belief that "doctrine divides, service unites".
Rather the possibility and reality of mutual service have become important
instruments in the growth of trust, the display of mutual love and better
service to the world. Common witness through proclamation and service reflects
the unity that already exists and nourishes the unity the churches seek. At the
same time, the churches must be prepared to find themselves in situations where
the type of services they feel called to offer creates controversy and even
division among them. If the unity of the church is strong enough to generate
service to humanity, it must also be strong enough to stand up to disagreements
on the type of service to be given and to engender a degree of trust which will
allow them to have confidence that the aims they are pursuing are the same. In
a world in which the reconciling vocation of the church is more necessary than
ever, the church cannot offer wise or pious counsel to warring factions in
humanity without showing that the church can overcome its own historical
divisions and provide a parable of the potential reconciliation of every human
A Spirit of Solidarity
When an environment is considered as hostile and threatening,
friendship usually comes into existence for mutual protection. In other words,
friendship becomes another word for exclusion. For instance, many of the
European nations work together to form a regional bloc (that is, the EEC) in
order to protect their interests. Something like this also has been taking
place between Hong Kong and GuangDong Province to form a Pearl River Delta
Economic Zone. This is the friendship that happens in globalization.
Nevertheless, such a kind of friendship does not ease our anxiety, but rather we
fall into a deeper anxiety, because our relationship is based on mutual-benefit
more than trust.
The Christian ecumenical movement is about human solidarity. It is
not about an alliance to defend our own interest. Nor is it generated by our
self-interest. Rather it is always for the sake of others, and is a way to
overcome individualism (regionalism) and human division by bearing with one
another. Nevertheless, ecumenism is not something like business expansion. It
is to give more than to receive. More importantly, "it is not the church that
has a mission of salvation to fulfill in the world; it is the mission of the Son
and the Spirit through the Father that includes the church."
Mission is thereby seen as a movement from God to the world; to participate in
mission is to participate in the movement of God's love toward people.
God's mission reveals to us his preferential
option for the poor.
The image of God is so universal in the Christian scriptures that the cry of the
oppressed becomes a technical linguistic term meaning an appeal reaching up to
and moving God in unyielding fidelity to humans. When Israel reflects
theologically on the origin of evil in the world, the breakup of fellowship that
this evil represents is imaged as the cry of the murdered brother’s blood
reaching up to God (Gen. 4:10). In the prophetic tradition it is said that God
does not hear the prayer of those who have “their hands… full of blood” (Isa
1:17-18). In the psalms the theme of God who defends the blood spilt when
fellowship is broken and the theme of the cry of the oppressed are joined
together: “For the avenger of blood has remembered; he has not forgotten the cry
of the afflicted” (Ps. 9:13). It is these two converging experiences-the
experience of the intolerability of oppression and genocidal repression seeking
to maintain injustice and the experience of the God of Jesus Christ in the
struggle against this death-dealing power.
Besides, it is in the foot washing that the
evangelist John perceives the ultimate justification for an attitude of
celebrating life in the name of Jesus and his continued presence in history
through the Spirit, an attitude that motivates a table fellowship with the
poor. Jesus' practice is not simply an act of humility in the sense of modesty,
but as the action of the one who is affirming that in the new human community
there is no inequality in the sense of stratified ranks. Nor is there any
servitude, but only mutual service, a co-responsibility of brothers and sisters
one to another, a friendship linked to the same mission and the same destiny.
To express solidarity is to restore the banners of justice and dignity to the
resistance of the poor. God's solidarity is characterized by the cross. The
cross of Jesus reminds us that there is a distinction between the Pax Christi
and the Pax Romana. The cross of Jesus reveals that the authority of
God is then no longer represented directly by those in high positions, the
powerful and the rich, but by the outcast Son of Man, who died between two
wretches. The rule and the Kingdom of God are no longer reflected in political
rule and world kingdoms, but in the service of Christ. The consequence for
Christian theology is that it must adopt a critical attitude towards political
religions in society and in the churches. The political theology of the cross
must liberate the state from the political service of idols and must liberate
humans from political alienation. It must prepare for the revolution of all
values that is involved in the exaltation of the crucified Christ.
Globalization brings us closer than before, but
it does not necessarily tighten our relationship. On the contrary, many people
are left behind, and they are always the poor. Under the ideology of
competitiveness, they are no longer to be seen as the victims. Rather they have
to be responsible for their "inability", and as a result, a spirit of
indifference is promoted rather than a spirit of solidarity. Christian
ecumenism is a movement that is shaped by a spirit of solidarity, because this
is the core of the gospel, that is to say, God becomes human. Thus,
globalization can be welcome as an instrument for the church to realize human
solidarity, because the more we close, the more concrete our prayer is.
A New Form of Ecumenism
Globalization is not simply a belief, but is something that has been
taking place in our daily life. Therefore, it is not enough just to provide a
theoretical-theological reflection on it. Furthermore, if ecumenism is a
Christian response to globalization, ecumenism itself has to be a living reality
more than a confession.
Apart from the institutionalized ecumenical movement (such as, World
Council of Churches and Christian Conference in Asia), there is a new form of
ecumenical movement, namely, the Pentecostal/charismatic movement. Pentecostals
proclaim the truly amazing size of the worldwide movement. Beginning in 1901
with only about 40 students in Charles Parham's Bethel Bible School in Topeka,
Kansas, and gaining world-wide prominence through William Seymour's Azusa Street
Mission after 1906, the growth has been exponential. According to Peter Wagner,
"in all of human history, no other non-political, non-militaristic, voluntary
human movement has growth as rapidly as the Pentecostal-charismatic movements in
the last 25 years."
Within less than a century Pentecostals are in the process of outgrowing all
other Protestant churches taken together. A growth from 0 to more than 460
million in 1995 (if these statistics are to be believed) is unparalleled in
Protestant church history.
Barrett projects that according to present trends of figure is likely to rise to
1040 million or 44% of the total number of Christians by 2025.
Pentecostals are rightly drawing attention to this extraordinary growth.
Besides, the influence of Pentecostalism is not restricted to Pentecostal
churches, but rather its influence penetrates into different denominations
(including the Roman Catholics). It is really an ecumenical movement (although
I have to admit that Pentecostalism also brings schism among churches). Ralph
Martin saw the charismatic renewal as the vehicle for bringing the Sacramental
and the evangelical churches together. In Martin's view, the charismatic
movement was the only force that could weld these forces together for a unified
Furthermore, people like Harvey Cox
and Douglas Petersen
highly praise this movement and positively consider that Pentecostalism would
bring a new impetus to Christianity and society. If so, any study of the
ecumenical movement should not ignore Pentecostalism. What contributions does
it bring to the ecumenical community?
The history of Pentecostalism shows us that it basically is a
contextual grass-root movement. It is a religion of the poor, because it is
rooted in the black oral history.
The black oral quality of Pentecostalism consists of the following: orality of
liturgy; narrative theology and witness; maximum participation at the levels of
reflection, prayer and decision-making and therefore a reconciliatory forms of
community; inclusion of dreams and visions into personal and public form of
worship that function as a kind of oral icon for the individual and the
community; an understanding of the body-mind relationship that is informed by
experience of correspondence between body and mind as, for example, in
liturgical dance and prayer for the sick. These are the practices that can
still be found among Pentecostals, although they vary in different churches.
The black oral tradition is not simply about an ethnic culture, but rather it
symbolizes the outcast, because at that time (the beginning of the 20th
century) the Blacks were discriminated against. Although the white Pentecostal
churches of North America do not associate these practices with the history of
the Blacks and replace it by the middle-class culture, the Blacks at that time
found their identity in Pentecostalism. This is why the Black consciousness and
the Pentecostal movement cannot be easily distinguished.
Thus, the Pentecostal movement is a movement about a struggle of the Blacks to
be themselves. The Pentecostal movement is a people's movement, and a voice of
Besides, the Pentecostal movement is an
ecumenical movement. It comes from the Blacks, but not confined to it. The
early Pentecostals were hopeful that this revival would bring worldwide
Christian unity. Charles Fox Parham, the pioneer of Pentecostalism, was
troubled by the confusion of denominationalism. He wrote,
Unity is not to be accomplished by organization
or non-organization. Unity by organization has been tried for 1900 years and
failed. Unity by non-organization has been tried for several years and resulted
in anarchy, or gathered in small cliques with an unwritten creed and regulations
which are often fraught with error and fanaticism. We expect to see the time,
when baptized by the Holy Ghost into one body, the gloriously redeemed Church
without spot or wrinkle, will have the same mind, judgment and speak the same
W.F.Carothers served as the Field Director for Charles F. Parham’s Apostolic
Faith Movement wrote: The restoration of Pentecost means ultimately the
restoration of Christian unity.
Even the Assemblies of God shared the view that something unique was happening
in the Pentecostal movement, yet its founders viewed themselves as standing in
full continuity with other Christians. From the event of the Azusa Street, the
unity that Pentecostals restored was not simply about Christian unity, but
rather broke down human barriers caused by racial prejudice, and created
fellowship among them.
Vinson Synan writes,
The Azusa Street meeting was conducted on the
basis of complete racial equality. Pentecostals point out that just as the
first Pentecost recorded in Acts 2:1-11 included "men out of every nation under
heaven", the modern "Pentecost" at Los Angeles included people of every racial
background. Participants in the meeting reported that "Negroes, whites,
Mexican, Italians, Chinese, Russians, Indians," and other ethnic groups mingled
without apparent prejudice on account of racial origins. The fact that Cashwell
was forced to reform his racial prejudice after arriving at the Asuza Street
Mission indicated that the trend in early Pentecostal services was toward racial
unity in contrast to the segregationist trends of the times.
This is really the sign of the anticipation of one humanity. Nevertheless, the
history of Pentecostalism reveals that it took a rather negative attitude
towards the ecumenical movement and even condemned it. It is not our purpose
here to give the reason to it,
but in the last ten years, we notice that the Pentecostal churches retrieved
their ecumenical tradition. For instance, the formation of the
Pentecostal/Charismatic Churches of North America claims that its membership
would seek new partnerships “in the Spirit of our Blessed Lord who prayed that
we might be one. It goes on to pledge a commitment to “the reconciliation of
all Christians regardless of race and gender as we move into the millennium.”
In fact, a lot of ecumenical dialogues between Pentecostals and other churches,
such as, Roman Catholics, World Council of Reformed Alliance, are taken place in
Unlike the traditional ecumenism of that
denominational structures and theological systems standing in the way of
organizational unity from the top down, the experience of the Pentecostals
occurs in local prayers and praise meetings. It emphasizes both the
participation of the laity and the plurality of the structures of the churches.
This is due to their belief of charisms. According to St.Paul, charisms are
given by the Spirit of Christ, but are never restricted to a particular circle
of persons. This is always universal, and no members of the church are without
charisms. Therefore, the division into those who serve the community and those
who allow themselves to be served is eccleisologically untenable: each person is
to serve with his or her specific gifts and each is to be served in his or her
needs. Nevertheless, charisms given by the Spirit are not for the sake of
individual enhancement. They are always for the sake of building up the church,
and therefore, the universal distribution of the charisms implies shared
responsibility for the life of the church. At the same time, the emphasis on
charisms of Pentecostals allows them to accept the differences among them,
because charisms are given by the Spirit. This is why their service allows
different ways of expressions coming from the congregations. A kind of unity in
diversity and diversity in unity is emerged. Nevertheless, this is an ideal or
a vision far from reality. In fact, Harold Hunter complains about “the rise of
bureaucracies and shibboleth monitors” in the Pentecostal churches. Nancy
Bedford, who teaches theology in Buenos Aires, made the following observation
there about the ethos of some rapidly growing charismatic churches:
It centers on following spiritually gifted
candillos (largely male) who are both charismatic and authoritarian. Thus
the form seems congregational but the ecclesiological substance reverts to the
worst kind of priest-centered Catholicism… It is an example of the gospel
adapting to a culture and growing (in some case phenomenally)- but at what
Despite it, the Pentecostals still can provide a different ecclesiology that
inspires our understanding of ecumenism.
Apart from the deficiencies, what the
Pentecostal movement shows us is a movement of the poor of that it allows their
way of life to be integrated into the Christian faith, a movement of friendship
of that it seeks for unity, and a movement of valuing each individual of that it
believes God’s charism given to each individual. Krister Stendal wrote, "The
Spirit as teacher renews the faith of the church and the intellectual quest of
humanity; the Spirit as unifier renews the love of the church and the solidarity
of humanity; the Spirit as liberator renews the justice of the church and the
moral energy of humanity; and the Spirit as vivifier renews the hope of the
church and the aspirations of humanity."
This is the spirit that our world urgently needs in order that we can see others
as companions and friends rather than threatening aliens.
Pentecostals in Captivity
If the above analysis is the tradition of
Pentecostalism, our concern is to what extent this understanding is still found
among the Pentecostals in Hong Kong.
I do not have a statistical survey on Pentecostalism in Hong Kong, but it does
not mean that Pentecostalism among Christianity in Hong Kong is less
influential. Many churches in Hong Kong have felt themselves drawn to emulate
the charismatic style or simply encountered it as a tendency embraced by many of
their own members. Some traditional churches like the Methodists even hold two
separate forms of worship service (charismatic worship and traditional worship)
in order to entertain different groups of members of their churches
For the analysis purpose, I identify there are
three different charismatic groups in Hong Kong. The first group is the
Pentecostal churches associated with the historical Pentecostal tradition. They
may be very different in the understanding and practice of Pentecostal
teachings, but there is no main difference between them and the evangelical
churches, for they consider saving souls and planting churches the prime mission
of the church. They never speak on any social issues, for they believe that
spiritual revival is the answer to the fallen world. The second group is the
evangelical churches, but filled with charismatic practice, such as, healing.
Because of the fact that the theology of these churches does not take social
transformation as an integral part of mission, they pay no attention to the
history of Pentecostalism but selectively borrow (copy) some practice of
Pentecostalism that they find useful. Their main concern is how to make the
church more appealing to their members instead of how the church can serve
society better. Besides, due to the difference between Pentecostal and
evangelical theology, it often leads to controversy among them, and even schism.
Finally, there are charismatic groups who identify themselves with "the third
wave" more than the historical Pentecostal tradition. They have a strong zeal
for mission. Although they never consider that striving for social justice is
the mission of the church, they really work among with the poor and
marginalized. For instance, St. Stephen Society mainly takes care of drug
addicts and the homeless; JiFu mainly takes care of the new immigrants; Light of
the Temple Street mainly takes care of the despised. Some may criticize that
these are all charity works and far from social justice but no one can deny the
importance of these works. Nevertheless, my concern is what happens to most of
the historical Pentecostal churches. When Pentecostalism becomes very
influential in Christianity, according to Barrett and Newbigin, what
contribution can it make to the churches and society in general? I am convinced
that if Pentecostalism is faithful to its tradition and belief, it can create an
alternative to the global-capitalistic system. Before that, the Pentecostals in
Hong Kong have to repent in four areas.
Firstly, the Pentecostals in Hong Kong are
inclined towards a kind of religious (denominational) chauvinism, and lose the
Pentecostals’ ecumenical spirit. Religious (denominational) chauvinism is a
projection of a particular religious (denomination) identity with the claim to
be the universal. Here religions vie with each other to catch the global
religious market and sell their spiritual goods as the best, and even the only
one. What appears to be a global outreach hides a power-agenda that is behind
such aspirations as to see the whole world as its own faith. The process of
globalization has added fuel and supplied the instrumentalities for the
competing of religions, and indeed for religious (denominational) conflicts.
What is worse is that religious (denomination) chauvinism does not allow any
room for self-criticism, incapacitates it to revise its own traditional image of
the other religious groups. In this way, the insider/outsider polarity gets
theologically, culturally and politically rooted at the expense of genuine
universality. The attitude is that of self-righteousness and exclusion.
Religious nationalism is but a political expression of an ideologically oriented
religious chauvinism. Much like the process of globalization which progresses
by continuously excluding more and more people, so too religious (denomination)
chauvinism excludes all those who do not belong to it. It could assume
different forms and expressions, from a theological re-assertion of "without the
baptism in the Spirit no salvation" to political and cultural exclusion of
Christians and Muslims as aliens and as not belonging to the Indian nation
because they are not Hindus.
Secondly, church growth becomes the ideology of Pentecostalism in
Hong Kong, and the Pentecostal churches become more inward looking and
self-centered. In order to recruit more members, the Pentecostals accommodate
themselves to fit the needs of society. An example of this is the Yoido Full
Gospel Church. (Yoido Full Gospel Church becomes the model for Pentecostals.)
Dr. Paul Yong-Gi Cho’s philosophy of
ministry is “find need and meet need”. For him, the important question is how
the Korean church can meet what the majority of Korean people need. Why do the
Korean working class and particularly the women go to the shaman? Because they
need health, wealth and success in their life ventures. Cho’s preaching meets
those needs exactly: “Anything is possible if you have faith.” He often claims
that the Christian faith is positive thinking and that Jesus Christ is a
Consequently, the Gospel loses its transforming power, but becomes a consumer
product. When church growth becomes a significant sign of God's blessing, there
is no place for statistics on how many souls die without Christ every minute if
they do not take into account how many of those who die because of hunger and
violence. With the ideology of church growth, the Gospel is truncated in order
to make it easy for all men to become Christians. Church growth can be a way
out for the churches to go on sinning under a respectable name, but not all that
grows is the church. Cancer grows too.
Thirdly, Pentecostalism in Hong Kong is inclined towards a kind of
prosperity theology. When our society has become preoccupied with material
prosperity and obsessed with concern for health, Pentecostals become a captive
to this life. The good life of TV commercials defined by possession- a
well-furnished house, late-model car, high-tech imports gives rise to prosperity
theology. Prosperity theology is fundamentally anthropocentric and is a product
of the highly individualistic and self-centered culture of late twentieth
century western capitalism. Besides, in the midst of social change and
disruption, the one thing left that we think we can control is our bodies.
Having lost faith in traditional communities and institutions, they took within
themselves for answers. This narcissism signifies not so much self-assertion as
a loss of selfhood.
Finally, signs and wonders, especially healing, become the phenomena
of Pentecostalism in Hong Kong. These phenomena are considered as the presence
of the power of the Spirit. Different "Healing Assemblies" are held in Hong
Kong. W. MacDonald describes the healing evangelists as follows:
Single women, especially widows, are the
preferred diet of this species of religious wolf. The evangelist weeps and
melts the heart of the women. He declares that the Kingdom of God is about to
collapse and his own stronghold is in danger unless substantial financial
resources are sent to him immediately. But Paul never collects money to build
up organization… The greatest threat to the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement in
the last two decades of this century will be the rise and fall of personal
kingdoms, because when they fall, as inevitably they must, the faith of those
who do not have their eyes on Jesus, will fall them.”
They see the world as a cosmic and moral duality. Everything is either divine
or demonic. They emphasize the conflict between God and the evil, but the
tendency of many, including John Wimber’s Power Evangelism, is to see
this struggle against demonic powers as too other-worldly and not to see that
spiritual warfare must correspond to the geography of evil- this sinful and evil
structures of society. They must see that the texture of social living makes no
easy distinctions between the personal and social.
Pentecostalism, according to my thesis, is a
powerful movement of the poor, of unity and valuing each individual, and as such
is pregnant with potential for the transformation of society. It can generate a
new culture in an era of globalization, that is, human solidarity. However, if
it does not re-traditionalize its tradition, it would easily become
institutionalized, withdraw from social struggles with the people and turn to
become a ghetto or a middle class's prosperity gospel. For this conformity with
the schemata of this world (a capitalist world), the price is the sacrifice of
the poor. The price is the tears of the poor who are discarded by society. The
price is the millions of starving people whose own subsistence economies have
been destroyed in the interests of a so-called free-market, because it does not
fit the schemata of this world, the schemes of the koinonia of the
Ecumenism at the Crossroads
Roland Robertson, a
sociologist, draws upon globalization theory to describe a series of processes
by "which the world becomes a single place, both with respect to recognition of
a very high degree of interdependence between spheres and locales of social
activity across the entire globe and the growth of consciousness pertaining to
the globe as such".
But he sees it, "There is an emerging problem of the definition of the global
human situation. The increasing sense of shared fate in the modern world rests,
primarily, upon material aspects of rapidly increasing global interdependence
and conflicts associated with the distribution of material and political power.
On the other hand, notwithstanding recent developments relevant to the embryonic
crystallization across national boundaries of modes of discourse concerning, in
the broadest sense, the meaning of the modern global human circumstance, global
consciousness is indeed relatively unformed in comparison with the mere sense
impression of material interdependence."
Globalization demands a new sense of meaning, but the materialist accounts do
In such a
context, fundamentalism addresses classic issues of group boundaries and
identity in a world undergoing a clear process of globalization. Robertson
comments to this point:
With respect to both the exacerbation of concern
with societal identities and the nature of individual attachment to one's own
society, it would be expected that societies in the modern world would
experience fundamentalist movements which make special claims to exhibit the
real identity of society in question and also, perhaps, the true meaning to be
given to the global circumstance. Indeed, we have witnessed the proliferation
of such movements across the globe in recent years- some of them being
explicitly concerned not merely with the identity of the societies in which they
have arisen but also with the positive and negative identities of other
societies in the international system- indeed, with the meaning of the global
condition itself. My argument is that the fundamentalist and absolutist
religious (and non-religious) movements of our time should be seen in terms of
global developments and not simply in terms of their being reactions to
particular Gesellschaft trends which a large number of societies have in
The strain brought along by globalization is the lack of a new integrative
meaning system for the new global economic and political interdependence.
Absent alternative voices in providing meaning for this new dislocation of
received worldviews and discourses, fundamentalism enters the arena with its own
The case of Pentecostalism in Hong Kong reveals to us that it
inclines to fundamentalism more than ecumenism. This does not only restrict to
Hong Kong, but is also found in other part of the world.
What concerns me most is the tribal mentality of fundamentalism, not the
contents of its belief, because the former always leads to some kind of militant
exclusivism. Put bluntly, it creates boundaries among people rather than breaks
down human barriers caused by nations, race, gender, religions and ethnicity.
The ambiguity of Pentecostalism is that it is a worldwide movement, but not
necessarily ecumenical. Nevertheless, the origin of Pentecostalism is
ecumenical. Therefore, Pentecostalism is at the crossroads, whether it sees
itself as an ecumenical movement or just a "Pentecostal" movement in a