Report of the
Joint Consultative Group WCC-Pentecostals, 2000-2005
to the Ninth Assembly, WCC, Porto Alegre, Brazil
Recommendations to the Assembly
We are grateful to those who over the years have encouraged and engaged in dialogue in order to seek the unity of the Church of Jesus Christ by working for the healing and reconciliation of all Christians. With regard to relationships between WCC member churches and Pentecostal churches, we would like to recognize the work of the churches and of groups such as the Christian World Communions, the Global Christian Forum, and Christian Churches Together (USA), to name a few, and commend them for their ongoing work. Yet there are places in the world where dialogue is not taking place and it is our hope to encourage the churches in those places to consider the value of these dialogues.
It is our hope that in the future both the WCC member churches and Pentecostal churches will strengthen their relationships by developing a genuine mutual interest in learning about and from one another.
1. We recommend the continuation of the JCG with the goal of building
relationships through ongoing theological conversations and studies (focusing on themes of the nature of the church, mission, understanding charismatic gifts, sacraments and the nature of Scripture, as well as others as they arise) with the hope of delving deeper into our respective theologies, and the education of our respective constituencies.
The JCG should also endeavour in its work to respond to and cooperate with WCC commissions (such as Faith and Order and the Commission on World Mission and Evangelism) and other programmatic areas whenever possible.
2. We recommend the expansion of this type of dialogue in the following ways:
a. At the level of regional, sub-regional and national councils of churches whose purpose could be similar to that of the JCG, namely, to build relationships through education and theological conversations. At each level, this dialogue could take place with the cooperation of the respective ecumenical bodies (i.e., the Regional Ecumenical Organizations). The WCC should take an initiating role in this dialogue by contacting these councils of churches to encourage dialogue and cooperation, and provide the names of members of the JCG in the region to act as resource persons who would be willing to share their experiences.
b. Through initiatives by individual members of the JCG, preferably through their respective ecclesial affiliations.
c. Through ongoing dialogues with the Christian World Communions (such as the bilateral theological consultations).
d. By engaging and cooperating in diaconal and practical work together through the various Christian development and aid organizations and Bible societies. We recognize that this work is already taking place in some regions.
e. Through dialogue within academic institutions via
i. consultations on Pentecostalism and ecumenism (which would include academics and denominational leaders);
ii. the exploration of ways to introduce the study of ecumenism into the training programmes of Pentecostal seminaries;
iii. the exploration of ways to introduce the study of Pentecostalism into the training programmes of ecumenical and denominational institutions of member churches; and
iv. publication of journals (whereby the work of Pentecostal scholars would be included in theological journals, and Pentecostals would continue the development of their own ecumenical journals) and websites with the purpose of advancing theological studies and educating all constituencies.
3. We recommend to Pentecostal churches that they
a. foster intra-Pentecostal dialogues (specifically a North/South dialogue);
b. encourage dialogue with WCC member churches at local and national levels; and
c. encourage dialogue between Pentecostal churches who are members of the WCC and who are not members of the WCC.
4. We recommend that the WCC and its member churches
plan consultations on Pentecostalism and related themes and include
Pentecostals in the participation and planning of these consultations as
b. build relationships with Pentecostal churches at local and national levels; and
c. enable more Pentecostals to become members of the commissions and advisory groups of the WCC and take a greater part in its programmatic work.
The Joint Consultative Group (JCG) was created on the basis of the following decision of the WCC Harare Assembly:
“The eighth assembly approved the proposal of the February 1998 executive committee to form a WCC-Pentecostal joint working group and asked the central committee to monitor the process.
On the basis of consultation between the WCC and Pentecostals since the seventh assembly, the assembly recommended that some of the tasks of this joint working group be:
a) consolidating existing relations and broadening the range of WCC and Pentecostal constituencies involved;
b) initiating studies and exchange on issues of common interest, including controversial issues;
c) exploring forms of participation in the spirit of the CUV document which are not primarily based on formal membership in the WCC
d) encouraging REOs and NCCs to explore possible ways and forms of collaboration.
In making this recommendation, the eighth assembly recognised the important contribution of Pentecostal churches currently members of the World Council of Churches. “
On the basis of the Assembly’s decision, the Central Committee, in its meeting in Geneva, 1999 appointed the members of the JCG. Rev. Dr Bruce Robbins was apppointed as co-chair from the WCC side, and the Rev. Dr Cecil M. Robeck Jr. was appointed as co-chair from Pentecostal side. The JCG was accompanied from WCC staff side by Hubert van Beek, Church and Ecumenical Relations (CER), until his retirement (Johannesburg meeting), and then by Jacques Matthey.
At the February 2005 Central Committee meeting held in Geneva, Switzerland, the Committee received an interim report from the JCG and adopted the following recommendations:
The Committee recommends that the JCG present its official report for the Assembly to the Executive Committee meeting in September 2005.
The Committee recommends the continuation of the JCG and endorses its goal to build relationships between the Pentecostals and member churches of the WCC. The Committee commends the directions for the conversation suggested, including the themes of the nature of the church, mission, understanding charismatic gifts, sacraments, and nature of Scripture.
The Committee recommends that the Assembly Planning Committee (APC) find ways to enable Pentecostals to participate in the WCC Assembly in 2006.
The JCG appreciates the affirmation of the Central Committee and carries its own recommendations to the Assembly as contained within this report.
Response to the Harare Recommendations
The Harare Assembly had high expectations of the WCC – Pentecostal dialogue, as is reflected in its recommendation. The Joint Consultative Group asks for some understanding that it could not deal at once with the entire depth and width of the agenda it was given. Patience is necessary, so that the dialogue may be fruitful.
a) The JCG has gone through an intensive process of building relations between its members, all of whom have consistently reported back to their churches and constituencies. Following each meeting, interim reports have been shared with the WCC Central and Executive Committees, which has allowed for regular information and involvement of the members of these governing bodies. By virtue of its existence, and the work it has been able to achieve, the JCG has demonstrated that a dialogue between the WCC and Pentecostals is timely, and potentially promising. The JCG has thus fulfilled to some degree its first task, of “consolidating existing relations and broadening the range of WCC and Pentecostal constituencies involved”.
Pentecostal team members have provided regular reports on the activities of the JCG in various ways and at different levels. Many have reported directly to the heads of their denominations. Others have reported to their academic societies or educational institutions. This has resulted in a growing openness to receiving the work of the JCG by a number of Pentecostal churches.
b) The JCG has undertaken and pursued a discussion on the issue of unity, especially during its meetings in 2002, 2003 and 2004. It has done so on the basis of Bible studies, presented by members of the group, which provided the input for the reflection of the day. It has developed methodologies for its meetings, which could be adopted by other groups engaging Pentecostals and WCC members. The group has been able to deal openly, and in a constructive spirit, with controversial issues, both those emerging in the discussions on unity, and those confronted in conversations on misconceptions and prejudices on both sides. The JCG has thus responded to some extent to its second task, of “initiating studies and exchange on issues of common interest, including controversial issues”.
c) The JCG has discussed on various occasions the issue of participation of Pentecostals in the life and work of the WCC. It has made two specific recommendations: to Faith & Order on involvement of Pentecostal theologians in the Plenary Commission, 2004; to the Central Committee, on participation of Pentecostals in the Ninth Assembly. However, the JCG has not had the time and was not well equipped to engage in a systematic reflection on its third task, of “exploring forms of participation in the spirit of the CUV document which are not primarily based on formal membership in the WCC”.
d) The JCG has not been able to deal with its fourth task, of “encouraging REOs and NCCs to explore possible ways and forms of collaboration”.
In responding to the recommendation of the Eighth Assembly, the JCG recognises the important contribution to its work of its members representing Pentecostal member churches of the WCC.
WCC and Pentecostals
1948 – 1998: a bird’s eye view
The World Council of Churches was founded in 1948 by historic Protestant churches, the Anglican churches and several Orthodox churches. Delegates from 147 churches primarily from Europe and North America attended the first assembly and there were no Pentecostal churches present at that meeting. It was not until 1961 when the majority of the Orthodox churches joined, and a large number of churches from what was then called the Third World. Many of these had grown out of Protestant and Anglican missionary work, but there were also two autochthonous Pentecostal churches from Chile, the Pentecostal Church of Chile and the Pentecostal Mission Church. They were the first, and their decision to apply for WCC membership was remarkable, because by that time the leadership of the classical Pentecostal denominations in North America and Europe had taken its distance from the ecumenical movement. Over the years a few more followed their example: one other church from Chile, two from Argentina, one from the USA (which no longer exists), one from Angola, one from Kenya. Their presence in the WCC is very significant. On the other hand, their number and size are tiny compared with the several hundreds of Pentecostal denominations today in the world, and their hundreds of millions of members. One large Pentecostal church from Brazil did join the WCC in 1969, and it looked a moment that a breakthrough was going to happen. But it had no impact on others, and the church withdrew again after a few years, following the untimely death of its founder.
The WCC, now composed of over 340 member churches of all the main Christian traditions except the Catholic Church, is “a fellowship of churches which confess the Lord Jesus Christ as God and Saviour according to the scriptures”. It understands itself as an instrument of the churches. One of its first foundational documents, the so-called Toronto Statement, adopted in 1950, states explicitly that the WCC is not, and does not intend to be, a super church. It has no authority over the churches. Another of its basic principles, called the Lund principle, is that the member churches commit themselves to do together, all that in their own understanding of being church they can do together – and respect each other in all other things. As the WCC was approaching its 50th anniversary in 1998, it reflected once again on its vision and understanding, and affirmed its fundamental calling to be a fellowship of churches, praying, sharing and acting together, bearing one another’s burdens and seeking the unity that their Lord Jesus Christ prayed for – so that the world may believe. On that occasion, the WCC also stated that the fellowship was not complete as long as the Catholic Church on the one hand, and the Evangelical and Pentecostal churches on the other hand, were not part of it.
For many years, the relationship with Pentecostal (and Evangelical) churches outside its membership was not high on the agenda of the WCC. There were no compelling reasons. Its basic policy was – and still is – to welcome churches that apply, but not to go out and win them for membership. The Council was growing, it was affirming its place as the main world-wide church body among the non-Catholic traditions, it was strongly supported by its member churches and fully occupied with its programmes and activities. In addition, in the ideologically divided world of the cold war, the official statements of the WCC and the teachings of the Pentecostal churches expressed very different, if not opposite theological and political perspectives. For the WCC, Pentecostals were part of the conservative Evangelical movement, with which a dialogue was hardly possible, and, in the eyes of many, useless. There were some contacts. The WCC and the Assemblies of God often worked together behind the scenes in post-war Europe, especially in the relocation of refugees, and in aid programmes for those left homeless, and without adequate places of worship. Beginning in 1961 this relationship changed, in part due to the pressure coming from various Evangelical leaders and organisations. As a result, the Assemblies of God adopted an anti-ecumenical policy directed at the WCC. Other Pentecostal churches affiliated with the Pentecostal World Conference soon joined the Assemblies of God in an act of solidarity.
Later on, some conversations took place with international organisations like the World Evangelical Fellowship (now Alliance) and the Lausanne Committee, especially after the Nairobi assembly in 1975. Pentecostal leader David du Plessis was at the Willingen Conference of the International Missionary Council in 1952 and attended all the WCC Assemblies from Evanston (1954) to Vancouver (1983). From 1978 to 1983 the WCC sub-unit on Renewal and Congregational Life organised a dialogue with charismatics of which the high point was a consultation at the Bossey Ecumenical Institute in 1980. But none of these conversations led to a sustained effort of overcoming the prejudices and establishing relationships between the WCC and Pentecostals.
In 1991 the WCC held its Assembly at Canberra with, for the first time, a pneumatological theme: “Come Holy Spirit, Renew the Whole Creation”. This was also the time when some awareness began to emerge in WCC circles of the phenomenal growth of Pentecostalism, especially in Latin America. Obviously, the Assembly could not study a Spirit theme without taking into account this reality of the Pentecostal churches. The issue was entrusted to the section of Faith and Order, in which Pentecostal theologian Cecil M. Robeck Jr participated. With his help, a number of recommendations were formulated, aiming at dialogue, study, and Pentecostal involvement in the WCC, which were approved in plenary. The same Assembly also approved the creation of an Office of Church and Ecumenical Relations (CER). In the distribution of work after the Assembly, the responsibility for building relationships with Pentecostals was given to this office. CER organised a series of consultations with Pentecostals and representatives of WCC member churches, in several parts of the world, from 1994 to 1997. Some of this was building on earlier work done from 1988 onwards by the Latin America desk of the WCC, especially with indigenous Pentecostal churches in Latin America. The CER office also developed relations with Pentecostal churches through visits, invitations and other opportunities.
It should also be noted that since 1989 there has been Pentecostal representation from outside the membership of the WCC on the Plenary Commission of Faith & Order, and more recently on its Standing Commission, in a consultative capacity.
The fruits of these various efforts were brought together at a meeting between WCC and Pentecostals, in November 1997, at Bossey. This was also the last of the series of small consultations, and it was attended by the WCC general secretary. It was this group which, unanimously, formulated the proposal for a joint working (later: consultative) group between the WCC and Pentecostals, to be submitted to the 1998 Assembly. In the ensuing months the WCC governing bodies gave their agreement, and the Eighth Assembly of the WCC at Harare in December 1998 officially approved the formation of the Joint Consultative Group.
Criticisms and Prejudices
From the side of Pentecostals outside WCC membership, the main criticisms include: a) that among WCC member churches there are those which deny certain historic doctrines; b) that it has replaced concerns for evangelisation and mission with the work of social concern, and c) the fear that the ecumenical movement might become an instrument of the Antichrist.
As already noted, one of the strong objections in the WCC is that Pentecostals are conservative, if not fundamentalist. Some churches go as far as to consider Pentecostal groups to be “sects”. Another, frequently heard accusation, particularly after the political changes in Central and Eastern Europe, is proselytism. More generally speaking, Pentecostal churches are perceived as divisive, fragmented, underdeveloped in terms of theology and ecclesiology, only interested in church planting and winning souls, and above all, anti-ecumenical.
The dialogue process that has been set in motion has not done away with these criticisms and prejudices. But as far as the WCC is concerned, it has had the effect that the issue is more often on the agenda, through the procedures of reporting and decision making. On the one hand, this has meant that the negative voices speak more loudly and frequently. On the other hand, it offers opportunities for explanation, learning, and correcting misconceptions, which did not exist before. Positively, there is a growing recognition that the sheer number of Pentecostals, and their vitality, does not allow the WCC to ignore them any longer. Another factor which has contributed to more openness is the impact of Pentecostalism and the charismatic movement on the life of many churches. In some parts of the world, Pentecostal churches and WCC member churches are coming together more closely, e.g. Korea, South Africa. Altogether, a “space” has been created for a more serious engagement between the WCC and Pentecostals.
The experience of Pentecostal member churches
For the Pentecostal member churches of the WCC, the experience of journeying with other sister churches has been a witness of faithfulness to the gospel of Jesus Christ, and also a common witness of unity so that the world may believe (John 17:21), a witness emphasizing unity in diversity. It has enabled these churches to join in fellowship with other churches, peoples and nations, in response to the challenge to unite efforts and talents in the search to overcome social, racial, economic, gender and religious differences. The journey together has been an experience of overcoming prejudices and opening up to what is new, of being available on a basis of equality, confronting challenges in common, and allowing to be guided by the Holy Spirit. It has also made it possible to be exposed to what is unfamiliar and different, engage in conversations without prejudice, grow closer to one another and accept one another, as well as to join hands in diaconal work.
On the one hand, the ecumenical experience has fostered a widening of the intellectual and spiritual horizon of the Pentecostal member churches. It has enriched these churches, helping them to realize that Christianity is much wider than their Pentecostal tradition. On the other hand, much progress is still to be made with regard to their participation in the working structures of the WCC, which has been small up to now. In this respect the Pentecostal churches associated with the WCC regret that they are not always acknowledged on an equal level with the other member churches, and that Pentecostal participation is still rather poor. However they trust that through specific efforts and responses to common challenges this situation can be reversed, for the sake of greater equality, Christian commitment, and the ecumenical calling.
The Pentecostal member churches in the WCC regret the absence of their Pentecostal sister churches who are not part of this fellowship, and would like them to join in the ecumenical journey.
Description of journey and process
First meeting in Hautecombe (2000)
The first meeting of the Joint Consultative Group between the WCC and Pentecostals took place from 19 – 23 June 2000, at the Abbey of Hautecombe, France, under the leadership of the two co-moderators, Rev. Dr Bruce Robbins and Rev. Dr Cecil M. Robeck Jr.
Team building was an important part of this first meeting. The members shared with each other their personal stories and spoke about their churches and their countries. Time was also taken for Bible studies, introductions to Pentecostalism, the ecumenical movement, and the history of relationships between the WCC and Pentecostals. Following these, the Group focussed its attention on understanding its task, on issues it would want to deal with during the time of its mandate, on methodologies, and on the planning for the next few years.
Several suggestions were made regarding ways in which the Group could do its work. Besides the academic method of preparing and reading papers for discussion which is used in many dialogues, other forms of dealing with issues were proposed such as narrative, oral theology in a setting of prayer and celebration, workshops, small groups etc. Bible studies provided a context of exchange and discussion. Creative ways of reporting would be essential, in order to share the findings and experiences of the Group as widely as possible.
Second Meeting in Quito (2001)
The members of the Group gathered for their second meeting at the Seminario Sudamericano, a seminary of the Church of God (Cleveland) in Quito (Ecuador), to continue a journey of coming to know each other. The context of Latin America and time with the Pentecostal host community deepened and challenged the encounter because of the dynamic life of the church in that place. The theme was Perceptions of One Another. The members discussed their concerns and views of one another through presentations and through reflection on a variety of topics. Additionally, the Group worshipped and studied the Bible together. The members also learned of the work of churches throughout Latin America. They visited the Latin American Council of Churches (Consejo Latinoamericano de Iglesias - CLAI). They participated in an educational meeting at an Assemblies of God Seminary, and they had many informal contacts with the seminary communities they visited.
The presentations and the discussions about the theme, demonstrated the work that needs to be done among all the participants, their churches, and the organizations from which they come. Participants need to learn about each other, challenge each other’s perceptions and prejudices, and listen and learn through the encounter. They listed the misconceptions about each other from both sides and discussed these thoroughly.
This meeting was characterized by long theological and sometimes emotional and painful debates concerning ‘theology and ecclesiology’. Questions arose such as: “Is Pentecostalism fulfilling the function of ‘an addition to and/or correction of’ the existing traditional theologies; or is it a new theology with its own structure and overview of theological problems?”, and: “How do the Pentecostal churches reconcile the process of institutionalization with the emphasis on the move and work of the Spirit?” On the other side the Pentecostal members conveyed that they noticed ‘a lack of recognition of the Pentecostal narrative tradition as a legitimate theological method upon which we can base our theological reflection’ and ‘a lack of awareness about the vast diversity of sociological and cultural background present within the Pentecostal movement and its impact on the process of formation of Pentecostal theology.’
The members discussed also the themes “mission and evangelism” (with the special focus on healing, proselytism and the dialogue with non-Christian religions) and “spirituality and worship” (e.g. about informality and spontaneity, the place of the Eucharist, contextualization of worship).
Third meeting in Seoul (2002)
The participants gathered for their third meeting in the Kwang Lim Methodist Retreat Center, north of Seoul, Korea. The theme of the meeting was the “Unity of the Church”. The theme was introduced from a Pentecostal perspective and from a WCC perspective. Following these presentations and discussion in plenary the two teams (i.e. the WCC team – representatives from WCC member churches, which included Pentecostal Churches and the Pentecostal team - representatives from Pentecostal churches which are not WCC members) met separately to formulate questions to each other. The questions were shared in plenary and subsequently discussed in the two teams with the purpose of drawing up some initial answers. This was followed by another round in plenary to present the answers and engage in further dialogue. It was the first time the Group used such a methodology.
Examples of questions posed to each other were: (from WCC-side) How do the Pentecostal churches understand and live out the marks of oneness and catholicity of the churches? How does Pentecostalism understand its own unity, locally, nationally or internationally? What changes in the life and work of the WCC churches would be helpful for the Pentecostal Churches to come closer to the WCC churches? And from Pentecostal side: How different are the concepts of unity between the WCC member churches? Are these differences greater than with the Pentecostals? And: According to the Toronto statement (1950) the WCC cannot decide for the member churches on matters of doctrine or ecclesiology.
The venue provided an opportunity for exposure to Pentecostalism in Korea and to learn about the life of the churches in that country. The members of the group attended worship at the Yoido Full Gospel Church in Seoul pastored by the Rev. David Yonggi Cho, which is the largest congregation in the world and is part of the Korean Assemblies of God (KAG). They also participated in a theological symposium held at another KAG church in Seoul. The Korean Assemblies of God was willing to organise and host a meeting in which their ecumenical concerns could be voiced in the name of “Ecumenicals and Pentecostals”.
Bible studies were held throughout the week of meetings to maintain a grounding in Scripture for all of the sessions. The Epistle to the Ephesians was chosen as the subject for the study since it related well to the overall theme of unity. Reflections focused on the interaction of the Bible with participants’ lives as well as close exegetical study of particular passages within their own historical context. They also provided a way for the members to come to know one another better and have a glimpse of how Scripture and its study is used within the various traditions represented around the table.
The Group discussed the meaning of some of the challenges of the churches in an attempt to discern what the Spirit is saying to the churches. The comments focussed in particular on the numerical growth in some of the ‘younger’ churches and the decline in older, ‘historic’ churches, the fragmentation among Pentecostal churches, and what these dramatic changes mean for the understanding of unity.
As a result, the members of both teams committed themselves to utilizing the position each member held within their church to promote the idea of relationship between the Pentecostals and the WCC. These opportunities could also be used to help allay some of the misconceptions and stereotyping.
Fourth meeting in Cleveland (2003)
The fourth meeting took place at Lee University in Cleveland, TN, USA, on the theme of unity. The Group went back to the same Bible passages as in Seoul to expand the reflection and help the Group develop its dialogue on unity from this biblical input. The Group followed a daily pattern of Bible study in plenary, discussion in small mixed groups (three WCC members, three Pentecostal members), discussion in teams (WCC, Pentecostal) and back in plenary to share the findings and take the reflection further. This worked well. Sometimes the Pentecostals from both ‘teams’ gathered to discuss their specific topics and to help in overcoming problems which emerged in the whole group.
Some of the important issues which emerged were the ‘non-theological’ factors of disunity (e.g. racism, economic injustice, gender) and especially the question of discernment of the workings of the Spirit. How do we know if the Spirit is at work or that human interests are dividing the church? Pentecostals are deeply convinced that the Pentecostal/charismatic movement is the work of the Spirit, that through it God is ‘shaking’ the church to wake her up. They detect in the attitude of the ‘historic’ churches towards them always an attitude of rejection, the assumption that they are the guilty ones who have to repent.
Lee University, where the Group met, belongs to the Church of God (Cleveland), one of the larger Pentecostal denominations in the USA and in the world. The invitation to meet at their University came through the intermediary of a Pentecostal member of the Group. It could be a sign of openness, maybe of change that is slow, but real. The Group had encounters with the faculty of the School of Religion (a department of the University) and with the Theological Seminary (directly attached to the church and in charge of training for the ordained ministry), and was welcomed in the worship service on Sunday in the local church near the campus.
1. The conclusion of this meeting was: trust between Pentecostals and the WCC is still to be built on both sides. Pentecostals have the experience of being excluded and sometimes it looks as if they, the excluded, are expected to make sacrifices for the sake of unity. Yet, all believers have as an imperative the response to the claim of unity of the people of God found in Scripture. All those who are in Christ are one in Christ. Is it possible to mutually recognize mistakes and repent and forgive, and then make a new start? The emphasis of the Group was on the virtues of patience (with each other and with the process) and perseverance and persistence in the quest for unity. It was a process of transcending differences and breaking out of our ways of thinking.
In relation to the question of uniformity, the diversity of the Pentecostals and the diversity in the WCC were noted. On both sides the differences are sources of growth and enrichment. On both sides they affirm oneness in Christ and yet lack of unity makes us equally vulnerable. It was noted that sensitivity in understanding each other is necessary. Pentecostals have sometimes the impression that they are always perceived by the historic churches as the wrong ones who cause division. There are examples showing this attitude on the part of historic churches. They claim to be the older, stronger, more mature churches. Pentecostals seldom perceive in the historic churches a posture of openness and willingness to admit that mistakes are on both sides. In the Group they agreed to make themselves vulnerable to one another.
Fifth meeting in Johannesburg (2004)
For the fifth time the members of JCG gathered in Kempton Park Conference Centre, Johannesburg in September 2004. Since after this meeting some members should participate in the Pentecostal and Charismatic World Conference in Randburg, this date and venue was chosen.
Characteristics for this Johannesburg meeting were the acquaintance with the specific South African shape of Pentecostalism in relation to their political and social struggle in former times and at present. The encounter with Frank Chikane (a Pentecostal minister), the director of the office of the president of South Africa, gave many insights in this specific context. The visit to the Crystal Christian Ministries in Eldorado Park and Grace Bible Church, Soweto were very impressive.
As in the programme of the meetings before, the Bible studies played a main role in this gathering. Five Bible studies about 1 Corinthians 11, 12 and 14 indicated the direction of the discussions. Especially the gifts of the Spirit and unity of the people of God were the main discussion points in this meeting. It became clear that Pentecostalism cannot be limited to speaking in tongues.
In the meeting the Group discussed the issues sometimes in a provocative way. Here is an example of direct questions which were posed to both teams:
To the WCC team: “If the Pentecostals were to reach out to embrace the ancient and not-so-ancient churches, would you, churches of the WCC, remain condescending, as if we do not really need those ‘strange’ Pentecostals, with all their rather ‘unpresentable’ ways and ‘indecorous’ enthusiasms? Or have you the courage and obedience to follow the teachings of Scripture and honour them for what they represent of Christ?”
And to the Pentecostal team: “Isn’t it true that the Pentecostals, however, need the traditional churches with their riches of doctrine, worship and continuity with the whole story of the body of Christ? If they were to reach out to embrace you as brothers and sisters in Christ, would you shrink back, stand aloof on the grounds of the full gospel? Or would you welcome the embrace, and honour your brothers and sisters in Christ, for all their perceived weaknesses in mission-effectiveness or scriptural faithfulness?”
From some information it became clear that at the grass roots (and national) level, relationships often seem easy, but at international and institutional levels, there are more difficulties. Problems were mentioned in relation with examples taken from two different regions. In Latin America the situation is different.
The Group discussed proposals for the continuation of future work in dialogues on three levels: the multiplying of the dialogues at regional levels; the centennial of Azusa street revival in 2006 as an opportunity for a public event signifying from WCC side a willingness to change ones’ attitude; and theological discussions on common faith, on themes such as fullness of life vs. prosperity theology, proselytism, etc. A decision was made about the nature and content of the report to the WCC Assembly in Porto Alegre. A narrative style and approach was welcomed by the Group.
Sixth Meeting in Cairo (2005)
The sixth meeting took place in June 2005 at St Mark Center of the Coptic Orthodox Church in Cairo. This final gathering of the Group was structured around Bible studies on John 13 -17. The members discussed themes such as the work of the Holy Spirit in and through us, the call of Christ to serve each other, the essential place of love in the Christian life and spirituality, and the prayer of Jesus for his disciples about their perseverance in service and unity. In the daily worship the Group gave witness and thanks for their growth in unity, faith, and commitment.
The great hospitality of the Coptic Orthodox Church gave to this final meeting of the group a special flavour. The members visited the old Coptic churches of Cairo and attended the Sermon Celebration of H.H. Pope Shenouda III in Cairo’s St. Mark Cathedral. They met the Pope personally after the Sunday ceremony in Alexandria’s St. Mark Cathedral and shared with him the results of this specific dialogue. The Group was impressed by the Christian presence of the Coptic Orthodox in Egypt, a Muslim majority country. They also met the monks of the St. Bishoy monastery.
During the meetings and the meals in the Center and on the Nile, the members of the Group prepared the final report of their work. During this detailed work, several discussion points emerged: the nature of the Church, the meaning of the Toronto declaration of the WCC, the indication and explanation of the growing dialogue between the WCC and the Pentecostals, the misconceptions about each other, the reality of the relations, and the hope for future development of the dialogue.
The Group was able to finish the report in a very open atmosphere of friendship and agreed on a common statement titled, Affirming our faith together. Several members of the Group will be present at the WCC Assembly in Porto Alegre.
Affirming our Faith Together
Since 2000, in response to the mandate of the 1998 WCC General Assembly held in Harare, Zimbabwe, the Joint Consultative Group has brought together representatives from a range of WCC member churches and from a range of Pentecostal churches from around the world. When, we members of this Group first came together, in Hautecombe, France we came with our fears, stereotypes, and apprehensions, as well as with our confidence and hope. As we have prayed together, listened together to the proclamation of the Word of God, engaged in Bible studies and in dialogue with one another, we have enjoyed a genuine sense of community with one another.
Our time spent in prayer and Bible study and our testimonies of the work that God has done and continues to accomplish in our lives have revealed that each of us shares a deep, personal devotion to God, and each of us has manifested a desire to act according to the will of God. We have been able to address many of the stereotypes that have contributed to our divisions, misunderstanding and misconceptions. We have changed many of the false images about one another, and we have set to rest many of our apprehensions.
We have come to realize that we have much more in common than we had realized when we first came together. All of us understand that there is only one Church. It is not our Church, but rather, the Church of our Lord, Jesus Christ. It is He who has called us together, and has called us to be the Body of Christ, and it is to Him that we give our love, devotion and allegiance. We recognize Him as the head of the Church. It is also the case, that through our mutual acceptance of one another in our prayer and work together (Eph. 4: 2 -3), we have come to recognize that we are all Christians. We have confessed Jesus Christ to be our Lord and Saviour according to the Scripture and we have sought to follow Him. We have called upon the Holy Spirit, the giver and sustainer of life, to be with us throughout the journey. We have also come to see the light of Christ in one another, and therefore are, as St. Paul says, “members of one another” (Rom.12:5).
Each time we have gathered together, we have prayed together. In our prayers, we recognize the presence of the Holy Spirit, and we have prayed to God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, who hears our prayers. We have also made it a regular practice to read and study the Scriptures together. We find in the Scriptures, an unparalleled authority for the ongoing life of the Church and its members. We have been taught, challenged, strengthened, encouraged, and comforted by the words of Scripture as they have been inspired in our hearts by the Holy Spirit. Though not always in agreement about the ways and methods of reading and interpreting the Scriptures, we continue to grow in our appreciation of the varieties of ways in which Scripture is understood. We are not yet in agreement on the meaning of all biblical texts, but have come to understand that these writings, inspired by the Holy Spirit, bear richer meanings than we originally thought. We have been able to learn from one another throughout our Bible studies.
In our time together, we have been touched by the richness of the diversity among us. We come from many places. We come with varied histories. We come from many denominations with different expectations. We come from many races and ethnic communities, and we come as older and younger men and women. We have therefore come to appreciate the gifts that each other brings to the dialogue. We have come to recognize more fully the diversity that fills the Church of Jesus Christ. We have come to see that place must be made for each one to share within the whole body that which God has given to him or her (1 Cor. 12 ff). Our work together has been marked by this sharing, and our report of our meetings has been touched in some way by each of us. We believe that before God, we stand as equals, regardless of our differences and diversity. We recognize that while the various gifts that we bring are important, their value is enhanced by the realization that together, they contribute as a whole to the one Body of Christ.
All of us agree that we are to proclaim the goodness of God and the good news of the Gospel to the world. Through what God has done for us in the life, death, and resurrection of His Son, our Lord, Jesus Christ, we have been given new life in Christ, and therefore have gained entry into the presence of God in a new way. We have been empowered for the life and work that God has so generously given to us and have hope for the future. There can be a particular emphasis upon proclaiming this message of salvation and hope through Jesus Christ by word of mouth. Another emphasis is the demonstration of the reality of this message through the testimony of signs and wonders. Alternatively there can be an emphasis upon proclamation through a ministry of consistent living or by ministering through various acts in the world that are performed in the name of Jesus Christ. Most would embrace more than one emphasis. We have come to appreciate that, while these different methods originate in the example of Jesus Christ, our practice must always be tested against Christ’s ministry. We realize, therefore, that we need to become aware of the various forms by which the Gospel is proclaimed and should develop, for the sake of our dialogue, a method of discussion that is intent on gaining knowledge rather than criticizing one another.
In our discussions, it has become clear to us that the present divisions in the Christian community hinder the work and witness of the Church in the world. These divisions confuse those who look to the Gospel for hope. We feel many Christians, including ourselves have failed to live up to the common calling to be sisters and brothers in Christ, who love one another, submit to one another, and seek to build up the entire Body of Christ. The central message of the Gospel is that all be healed and reconciled to God and to one another through Jesus Christ. We recognize our own culpability in not heeding this message to its fullest.
The question of the discernment of the Spirit has emerged on several occasions in our discussions. How do we know if it is the Spirit that is at work in us and in our communities, or whether what we claim to be the Spirit working in us is not of human interests? How do we know where the limits of our faith and our actions should be placed? We were in agreement that these questions are important, but also very difficult to answer. We have not yet agreed on a common understanding of the criteria that might be used to discern the Spirit and set boundaries, nor have we always been clear about who has the authority to do so. We recognize that Christ has taught us not to judge one another (Matt. 6), while at the same time the Scriptures call us to discern the spirits, to test the fruits of our actions, and to enter into discipline within the Christian community. As we have listened to each other, we have come to understand the centrality of these issues for our dialogue, and the necessity to continue wrestling with these questions.
Issues that challenge us further
Throughout our time together, we have discussed the various teachings of our respective churches and the perceptions that we have of one another. Even though we have met regularly for the last six years, the Group has just begun to address the many differences and concerns that were raised at our first meeting. What has also become clear is the diversity within each respective group, WCC and Pentecostal; the representatives from the World Council of Churches member churches held differing understandings of specific theological teachings, as did the representatives from among the Pentecostals. This fact added to the richness of our discussions and the complexity of ordering our meetings.
The following are among the areas which need to be addressed more extensively by the JCG in the future:
2. Inadequate understandings of one another still exist and need to be explored more fully. What is perhaps more relevant, though, is the need to share what we have learned from one another with our respective communities.
3. There were initial discussions on the issue of mission and evangelism. The importance of dialogue between churches concerning evangelism, respect for one another's churches, and proselytism cannot be overestimated. The Group is committed to addressing the tension among us and exploring ways that we might be able to work together in mission.
4. The gifts of the Holy Spirit (charismata) are of interest to many members of the Group. What are they? How are they defined? How are they manifested? How are they recognized?
5. The sacraments emerged as an area for further discussion. The churches recognize the significance of the sacraments in various ways. What is the role of the sacraments in the life of the Church?
6. Even though the Group dedicated much time to the study of Scripture, more work needs to be done with regard to the different ways in which Scripture is interpreted and understood.
7. Spirituality was a main theme throughout our work over the past six years. Our discussions looked at the variety of ways in which the work of the Spirit is discerned. How do we discern the work of the Spirit? What criteria have our respective churches developed for determining the work of the Spirit?
8. And finally, the overarching question that emerged during our discussions addressed the extent to which World Council of Churches member churches and Pentecostal churches see each other as “churches”. In our discussions on Christian unity, we asked: What is the nature of the Church? Who are the members of the Church? What is Church and what is not? What or who is the ultimate authority in the Church? What are the criteria by which an individual church recognizes another as church?
These issues are presented by our Group to those who will take up the task of continuing this conversation. The Joint Consultative Group sees these issues as the emerging concerns that will help guide the future dialogue between the World Council of Churches and Pentecostals.
Presentation of the members in the JCG
Attached is a list of members of both teams for the last period of the work of the JCG. Since the beginning in 2000, there have been some changes in membership.
United Methodist Church
Rev. Dr Bruce Robbins (Moderator)
Rev. Dr Lesley George Anderson
Evangelical Pentecostal Mission Church
Rev. José Domingos Caetano
Porto Amboim,K. Sul
Pentecostal Mission Church
Rev. Cecilia Castillo Nanjarí
Belarussian Exarchate of Russian Orthodox Church
Brother Grigori Dovgyuallo
The Baptist Union of Great Britain
Rev. Paul Goodliff
Coptic Orthodox Church
Dr (Mrs) Nahed Fahim Habashy
Korean Methodist Church
Rev. Yo Han Lee, Ph. D.D. Min.
Presbyterian Church in Taiwan
Ms Yueh-Wen (Andrea) Lu
Christian Biblical Church
Rev. Hector Osvaldo Petrecca
Protestant Church in the Netherlands
Dr Bas Plaisier
Ecumenical Patriarchate, Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America
Ms Despina Prassas
Interpreter and proxy for Dovgyuallo
Staff (WCC) Hubert van Beek (until 2004)
Jacques Matthey(end 2004-2005)
Assemblies of God
Rev. Dr Cecil M. Robeck (Moderator)
Church of God
Dr Miguel Alvarez
Church of God
Dr Danielle Augustine
Assemblies of God
Rev. Sheri R. Benvenuti
International Pentecostal Holiness Church
Rev. Dr Harold Hunter
Finnish Pentecostal Movement
Rev. Dr Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen
Apostolic Faith Mission of South Africa
Dr. Japie LaPoorta
Republic of South Africa
Korean Assemblies of God
Rev. Dr Young-Hoon Lee
Indian Pentecostal Church
Dr Paulson Pulikottil
Pentecostal Assemblies of God
Bishop Stephen Safwali
Church of God in Christ
Rev. Dr Frederick Ware
 This language is consistent with the WCC Toronto statement of 1950. Cf. “The Church, the Churches and the World Council of Churches, WCC Central Committee, Toronto, 1950” in: Michael Kinnamon and Brian E. Cope, eds., The Ecumenical Movement. An Anthology of Key Texts and Voices. Geneva, WCC and Grand Rapids, MI, Eerdmans, 1997, pp. 463-468.
 Diane Kessler, ed., Together on the Way, Geneva, WCC, 1999, p. 168, report from Policy Reference Committee I
 cf. pages 1 and 2
 See Report of Section III “Spirit of Unity –Reconcile your People” in: Michael Kinnamon, ed., Signs of the Spirit, Official Report Seventh Assembly. Geneva, WCC and Grand Rapids, MI, Eerdmans, 1991, pp. 96 –111, in particular 107-108.