Translated from the Spanish
Language Service, WCC
PENTECOSTALISM. A LATIN AMERICAN VIEW
by Bernardo Campos
I. Historical Background
1. Pentecostalism entered the religious scene of Latin America around 1909, the 19th century having been marked by the development of Protestantism in the region.
2. Until then the religious field in Latin America since independence (1810) had been occupied by:
a. Roman Catholicism with at least three main strands - traditional, modernizing and popular.
b. Historical Protestant and Mission churches, and
c. Indigenous religions, with very little opportunity for expressing themselves freely (outside the forms of Christianity).
3. With the development and diversification of Pentecostalism (1940-50) came on the religious scene in Latin America:
d. A series of New Religious Movements, such as:
- mediumistic religions - spiritualism, shamanism
- messianic religions - political and religious
- esoteric religions - orientalism4. This new configuration created tension between the different actors competing for supremacy or control in the field of religion, still dominated by Roman Catholicism.
- The reasons for this were not purely religious, but also ideological and political, though not ruling out a legitimate pastoral concern on the part of each "to win the salvation of the original peoples".
- There were also sociological reasons for the arrival of Protestant churches in Latin America (transplanted immigrant churches) whose aim and objective was to colonize and create a "New World".
5. Parallel to this growth or expansion of the religious field, Latin America was caught up in a process of economic, political, social and cultural dependence. It was unable to achieve "development" and find its way out of poverty and socio-economic marginality in relation to the countries of the North (exclusion).
6. On the other hand, there was an increase in religiosity, as though the population of Latin America were seeking an answer in religion to their vast and complex material and spiritual needs.
7. Against this background of exclusion there was an upsurge of charismatic, quasi-pentecostal experiences, whose social ideas and schemes incorporated economic ideologies along the lines of the global market, by which the adept becomes a "consumer of material goods for salvation" and salvation is calculated in economic terms as the miraculous transition from social poverty to economic prosperity, granted as a reward.
II. The Denominational Context
1. In view of the complex (material and spiritual) needs of the population, the religions - like the political parties (first populist and then socialist), the armed forces and economic power groups - put forward a range of symbolic choices offering the possibility of human fulfilment ("symbolic goods for salvation").
2. In this respect, various religious researchers some years ago began asking questions such as:
a. How does Pentecostalism - as a popular religion - help or hinder social change in Latin America leading to consistent development in all areas of human life?b. What role has the Pentecostal faith played in the process of social and cultural formation in Latin America? What role does it play now?
c. What relationships of "transaction" or "opposition" can be established between the religious project of salvation and development in Latin America? And between these and the creation of a New International Order for world peace?
3. In regard to Pentecostalism, social scientists have developed various hypotheses, of which the following may be singled out:
a. Those which seek an explanation ad-extra, in social structures external to the religious dynamic as such, but localized in a geographic region.
- Pentecostalism, they say, "is a form of response to the situation of social anomie (disorder) produced by the process of migration resulting from the gradual industrialization and urbanization of Latin America, starting in the 40s and continuing especially up to the 70s." Pentecostalism somehow became a substitute society for the wider society, in some cases having a paralysing effect on the working masses aspiring to liberation (Chr. Lalive d'Epinay) and in others offering the social and economic rewards denied them by society, and hence, on the contrary, acting as a powerful agent of social transformation (E. Willems).
- Pentecostalism then became the religion of the oppressed classes, the refuge of the masses, the religion of the subordinate classes which can only be explained by the dynamic of class relations imposed on them by the capitalist mode of production. In other words, Pentecostalism - involuntarily - operates as an ideology which maintains the lower classes in a position of inferiority (F.C.Rolim).
b. Others look rather for a socio-cultural explanation and see Pentecostalism as the space where the people create their own "religious world" as an alternative to magisterial religions like Roman Catholicism or Protestantism. By this means, the Pentecostal faith becomes as it were a productive factor in a society that marginalizes it for not producing added value (Rolim); it breaks with the established religious continuum and reconstructs the "sacred" as a means of affirming popular subjectivity (Palma, Villela, Sepúlveda).
c. Another line of investigation prefers to see the popular religions as a mediation or language (Foulcat) by means of which the people express their profoundest religious sense or their most transcendental quest for SALVATION.
Thus, Pentecostalism - as a popular religion - is a response to the distress and suffering of society (Peter Henry Fry and Gary Nigel Howe) or one way of satisfying the religious longings produced by the trauma of a conquest - political, military or cultural - which sought to legitimize itself by using religion as a means of domination, or attacking the people in their mythical-symbolic sub-stratum (E.Dussel).
III. The Pastoral Perspective or the Explanations "Ad-Intra"
If we try to describe/characterize Pentecostalism as a relatively autonomous field we may say that:
a. Historically, we are dealing with a radicalization of the "Holiness Movement" (excellently described by D. Dayton in his book Theological Roots of Pentecostalism). A New Reformation.
b. Culturally, we are talking about a transformation of cultural Catholicism or a special form of popular religiosity.
c. Religiously, we are dealing with a transformation of reformed Protestantism (Aufgebung: assimilating and superseding it).
d. Theologically, we have a third reformation as the sign of a great revival before the coming of Christ at the end of the age.
Looked at from another point of view it is:
- An "ardent spirituality", conditioned by the changes in the world social, cultural, political and religious order, but motivated by the Spirit of God and the stiffness of religious structures. In this sense it is a religion of the body, for the body and even transcending the body in ecstasy.
- A "symbolic universe" constructed on the basis of (recreated) western, Christian culture.
- A "linguistic mediation" expressing deep religious feelings.
- A "movement of the Spirit" revitalizing the church.
- A "space or opportunity" for human life in community, creating a "universal, fraternal and inclusive community".
- A "useful instrument" for building communities of solidarity, for strengthening social and cultural entities, in short, for the unity of humankind.
- A noble effort to realize in history the significant, symbolic, programmatic event of Pentecost (without being able to do so to the full) and, in this sense, one attempt amongst others to translate the overcoming, at Pentecost, of the chaos of Babel, symbolizing the divisions of gender, class, ethnic group and religion in our broken and suffering humanity.
Pentecostals therefore have a "Mosaic and pragmatic theology" which can be expressed as:
- A cosmic theology (a vision that is world-wide and not just continental)
- A theology of history (e.g. dispensationalism as theol. history)
- A theology of transcendence as opposed to earthly tribulations
- A political theology (between fundamentalism and radical social action)
- A theology of humanity: empathy with those who suffer, regardless of race, gender, geography, social class, etc.
IV. Contemporary Development
Pentecostalism thus expresses a religiosity in mutation, a "culture movement" in constant transformation. We should not be surprised to find it at different stages of development (as sect or church, organization or spiritual movement) in different regions. Its dynamic lives in a constant process of "evolution and involution" and we find it now in a "charismatic" stage, now in an "institutional" one, or again "latent" in burocratic religious societies, and "manifest" in religious societies open to change or in process of transformation.
In these "plastic times" (Mandonioni), with the present crisis of paradigms and the reorganization of the world order, Pentecostalism appears to cover a highly complex spectrum, expressing the most varied human quests, running through almost all fields of public and private life and cutting across all frontiers - geographical, ethnic, economic, political, confessional, cognitive, methodological, etc.
V. Evaluation and Analysis
Are we then dealing with a religion or with an experience, a universal feeling, a spirit of the age? What does Pentecostalism in fact represent? What exactly is Pentecostal?
Without over-estimating its propagation world-wide - because a non-Christian world exists - and without under-estimating its western scope, we have to ask whether we are not talking here about a renewal of the whole of Christianity, in all its confessional forms, rather than just the development of a religious expression. The "recapitulation of all things in Christ" (anacephalaiosis), the expectation of the Parousia at the end of time, or the "great universal banquet" (agape) towards which we are moving can be expressed in contemporary life through movements like the different forms of Pentecostalism, even if they fall short of the final thing.
I believe that what we now see as Pentecostalism - or what may be called Pentecostalization - is quite simply the sign of a great transformation of world history as it moves towards its final consummation and fulfilment.
As you know from you own respective contexts, there do exist experiences similar to those of traditional Pentecostalism, though with a different slant, where marketing criteria prevail (excellence, quality), rather than criteria inspired by the gospel spirit of renunciation as the basis for the organization of religious communities. In these "religious experiences", where the emphasis is on "consumption of material goods for salvation", prosperity does not necessarily mean solidarity, and the spectacular aspect of the assembly tenaciously opposes the participation of the community in worship, praise does not simultaneously mean adoration, nor does the rigour of the liturgical harmony entail corresponding ethical consequences consistent with faithfulness to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Rather, these follow the logic of this new experience.
Can this be Pentecostal, in the light of the New Testament?
VI. Areas for Future Investigation
- Universality of the phenomena of ecstasy and glossolalia. The manifestation of these in non-Christian cultures and religions.
- The transformation of Pentecostalism itself.
- Re-examine the lineal historical discontinuity, or simultaneous "erruptions" of forms of Pentecostalism at different points of the globe.
- Possibilities and limitations of encounter between religions, and the prospect of a universal and inclusive "Pentecostalness".
1. We should not stop short at local case studies (necessary as these are), but move on towards wider, interdisciplinary interpretations.
* In history, give priority to long-term studies which make it possible to understand epochs, periods and stages.
* In sociology of religions, promote sociologies of the religious movements.
2. This presupposes a methodological revolution, a renewal of the categories we use, our epistemology, our view of the universe and our spiritual discernment, our utopias and our anthropocentric archetypes.
3. For this we need to build new ecumenical models, starting with Christianity in the Americas and other continents, then moving on to the unity of the human race.
4. Rethink our exclusive claim, because Christ is more than the different forms of Christianity, the Spirit is more than the different forms of Pentecostalism and God is Father and Mother to us, the sustainer of all creation, including the animals and all the ecosystems, beyond all human differentiations.
5. We also need to affirm that the Resurrection of Christ has ushered in a New Age and we are moving towards the final consummation with the ultimate victory of Christ over all opposition of the devil (turning aside from God's plans), the subjection of Christ to the Father, the ONE GOD, who is all in all (1 Cor. 15).
6. We also need to get away from approaches based on particular pespectives (indigenous, feminist, black, pentecostal...) and move on from subjective theologies to objective reflection and analysis in which all can participate interactively (altérité).
7. We need to find common fields of interest, without losing sight of the specific input of each of the subjects producing theology.
8. Consequently, a Theology of the Pentecostal, or better, of "Pentecostalness", has to be much more than a confessional, continental, regional, subjective theology. It has to be universal, inclusive, comprehensive (with a perspective of wholeness), not necessarily in the theme chosen, but rather in the spirit in which we deal with the theme, in our case, the complex realities of both continents in a Pentecostal perspective.
9. Unlike feminist, indigenous, or black theology, a Pentecostal theology seeks to be inter-subjective. It proposes the quest for a universal human community in which the diversity of our languages and interests is overcome in the unity of our meeting with the risen Christ.
Kingdom of God. Bernardo Campos noted the Latin American view that the theology of the kingdom of God is a political concept. "There is an imperialist vision, a concept of empire in the kingdom of God which is not coincidental," he said. "When Columbus came to America, he used the kingdom of God in a political perspective. The Spanish related it to the colonial process in Latin America. This concept of the kingdom of God needs to be revised by Latin American Pentecostals. We need a new hermeneutic that will lead us to new dimensions."
Salvation. Asked about Pentecostalism offering a material form of salvation Campos said that people needed to be able to transcend their poverty. The experience of ecstacy was not a matter of escapism. After the worship service the pentecostal returns to reality but not as the same person. Poverty takes on a new meaning. Salvation is liberation from sin and is expressed individually and in structural ways. The world is organised against God so the Latin American pentecostal wants to distinguish him or herself from the world to win sacred space from the profane. That concept of salvation leads to an evangelistic agression to build a new world.
Authority. In answer to another question Campos observed that the source of authority in his theology is Holy Scripture read under the Spirit of God. Dialogue with other disciplines (e.g. sociology, history, science are only partially effective to understand the meaning of a text. The explication of the Holy Spirit is needed to enable the reader to combine the text with his/her reality. This is called a contextual reading with the illumination of the Holy Spirit; its is intuitive and scientific.
Indigenous religion. The view that the Holy Spirit is present in the religions of indigenous peoples of Latin America was questioned by Pentecostals from the United States. Campos explained that there was a difference between Pentecostal pneumatology and the pneumatology of indigenous people. The spirits of the shaman are not the Spirit of God. But indigenous people with a christian vision of religion have little trouble telling the difference.
Liberation theology. A Latin American participant observed that in spite of Pentecostal growth on the continent, injustice, hunger, drug abuse and prostitution had not diminished. Pentecostal theology cannot avoid the reality of poverty and misery which stems from 500 years of exploitation, because the people in the Pentecostal churches are victims of a social order that excludes them.
Pentecostal theology. One of the North American Pentecostals said that Latin American pentecostal theology was more likely to stress structural injustice and a different pneumatology than North American Pentecostals. Speaking as one who identified deeply with his Latin American sisters and brothers he said: "We have been copying theology for so long and now we are coming to a place where we do theology. We must take seriously the moving of the Spirit that questions the views of our forefathers and foremothers". Turning to his North American fellow pentecostals he added that Latin American theology might not represent the constituency but this was good because the constituency did not represent Pentecostalism. Space was needed to redefine the categories. Campos responded saying that Latin Americans were in a new situation creating theology and recreating the life and mission of the church in a world that required more and more of pentecostals.