When Latinamerican pentecostal Christians meet they share their experiences through testimonies and worship. It was therefore natural that these two expressions of communication and communion were very prominent in the consultation.
Indeed the meeting began with a series of testimonies from various countries. These stories illustrated from the outset that there are pentecostal churches in Latin America which are deeply concerned with the political, social and economic conditions of the people among whom they witness of their faith. Each story spoke of the hardships caused by the credo of neo-liberalism. Each story was in its own way an account of the hope that these communities of faith bring in the midst of situations of poverty, unemployment, violence, drugs and crime. During the years of violence caused by the Army and the Shining Path in the Ayacucho region of Peru the evangelical and pentecostal churches were the only ones who stayed with the people. Thus these testimonies, and others given in the course of the meeting, provided the right setting for the discussions throughout the week.
Each day of the meeting opened with a worship celebration. That in itself is quite normal for WCC events. But it was Latinamerican pentecostal worship, not hindered by time limits or well prepared orders of service. It was worship that through prayer, testimonies and comments gave space for dealing with many of the issues that emerged in the discussions during the consultation. Thus there was a constant flow back and forth between celebration and reflection.
Daily Bible studies were another feature that is common to many meetings. In Latin America Bible studies are intimately linked to the context of the people, using popular expressions of music, dance and drama. Thus the Scriptures came alive in their relevance for the daily life of the communities back home.
Whether they meet among themselves or with others, identity and spirituality are essential for the pentecostal churches in Latin America. Therefore the consultation started its work with presentations on these central themes, in a variety of forms: a pastoral reflection on pentecostal identity, a scholarly paper on pentecostalism in the power of the Spirit, a video in which common people talked about the power of the Spirit in their life. The meeting went on to reflect on evangelism, community, social commitment and unity, gradually widening the scope of mutual listening and dialogue between the pentecostal participants and those representing other denominations within the WCC and CLAI.
The majority of the pentecostal participants were representative of what could best be described as indigenous, autonomous churches which are not - or no longer - dependent on foreign mother churches or mission bodies. There is also another manifestation of the pentecostal movement in Latin America which is known as neo-pentecostalism. This is characterized by big campaigns and massive use of the media. It is imported from abroad and often portrays the gospel as a message of prosperity and personal fulfilment.
The discussions focussed on indigenous pentecostalism in Latin America and brought out many of its marks. It is essentially a popular movement among the poorest sectors of society that responds to the spiritual needs of the people. Pentecostal faith offers an intimate personal relationship between the believer and God. The pentecostal Christian encounters the power of the Spirit in his or her daily life and feels compelled to share that experience of God's presence with others. Evangelism is done in a direct, personal way, and with a sense of urgency. Popular, indigenous pentecostalism is rooted in the culture of the people. It has a strong sense of community. The faith is personal but not individual; it is lived out and celebrated in the worshipping and serving community. Celebration, care for the neighbour and solidarity with the needy go hand in hand, holding the spiritual and the social together. The pentecostal message can be a powerful agent of healing and reconciliation in broken communities. The social commitment of these churches of the poor is a source of hope in the midst of hopelessness.
There are various manifestations of pentecostal ministry, which reflect the variety of gifts of the Spirit: preaching of the word, teaching, intercession, counselling, music, diakonia etc. Pentecostal churches do have pastors. However the emphasis is not on structures or forms of ministry whereby one person is set apart but on the recognition that the Spirit is free to work in all believers. What counts is the message. Little attention is given to the content of the ministry. There is a great need to improve biblical and theological training.
The Spirit may arouse extraordinary ministries of healing, exorcism or prophecy. Miraculous healing through prayer may be a problem for others, it is not for pentecostals. In any worship service there will be some manifestation of the Spirit. This understanding of ministry gives much importance to the role of lay persons. There can be abuse. It is the task of the pastor to see to it that everything is done in good order.
When structures are too tight pentecostalism will always seek to break out and find new ways of expression. It is a dynamic movement of continuity, rupture and transformation. The negative side of this strength is that pentecostal churches fall easily prey to dissent. The scandal of division is particularly obvious in evangelism. The priority of proclaiming the good news is often perverted to become sheer competition for filling the church.
As is often the case in these meetings women were under-represented in the consultation. But those who were present made their voices heard. In the pentecostal churches the Bible is often used to make women feel that they are inferior to men. In some churches women can be pastors, in others not. The women in the barrios of Latin America suffer more from poverty and violence than the men. But it is the women who are involved in community activities. They run the soup-kitchens, care for orphans and street children, organise neighbour help, do door-to-door evangelism. These actions give them space to discuss problems which are not discussed in the church. They become aware of the need to acquire knowledge and skills. This helps them to claim their right and dignity as equal members of the community. For the andino women the struggle is even more difficult. Many of them do not speak Spanish, they lack biblical knowledge, skills and resources. They are eager to learn but get little support from the church and feel alone. As one participant put it: how can the church evangelize if within its own community the relations between men and women are not sound?
The relations between the pentecostal churches in Latin America and the Roman Catholic Church are complex. For the latter the rapid growth of pentecostalism is an enormous challenge. Roman catholic accusations of proselytism are matched by complaints of persecution and discrimination of pentecostals. This is aggravated by the influence of conservative pentecostalism from North America.In some countries there is outright hostility. In other places some cooperation is possible. The international, official Roman Catholic-Pentecostal dialogue may in the long run contribute to a better mutual understanding.
The pentecostal churches feel the need to develop contacts and exchanges with non-pentecostal sister churches, in particular with regard to theological and pastoral education for which they need help. In their experience the pentecostal movement is not taken seriously by most of the protestant theological seminaries in Latin America. Pentecostals are trying to learn the ecumenical language but they see little effort on the side of their ecumenical partners to understand pentecostalism. An example was given of a pentecostal church in a latinamerican country which had had a long-standing relationship with a non-pentecostal church in the USA and had received many guest preachers from there. But the first pentecostal pastor to preach in this sister church had yet to be invited. The churches engaged in the ecumenical movement should learn to value the gifts of the pentecostal churches.
The participants were especially eager to strengthen relations with pentecostal churches in the USA and in other parts of the world. They hoped that international ecumenical organisations such as the WCC and CLAI could help them in this regard.
The participants in the consultation accepted a proposal to produce and adopt a common statement summarizing their findings and recommendations. A small group prepared a draft which was thoroughly discussed and unanimously agreed upon (see page ..... "Living in the Unity of the Spirit"). This document will serve as the basis for further dialogue and cooperation between the WCC and CLAI and the pentecostal churches through the Latinamerican Evangelican Pentecostal Commission (CEPLA).