OUR VISION OF UNITY AND ECUMENISM
Bishop Gamaliel Lugo Morales
I. WHAT IS OUR UNDERSTANDING OF ECUMENISM?
To speak about unity and ecumenism in our Latin American and Caribbean context is both important and difficult. We live in a context which is so much violated, so much divided, so much penetrated by the individualistic and mercantilistic values of neoliberalism that it would seem that efforts aiming at unity, dialogue, solidarity and cooperation do not count. Yet it is the culture of solidarity and cooperation which may help to combat the accelerating impoverishment and deterioration of life which the powers of this world have brought upon us.
The terms unity and ecumenism have been misinterpreted in many of our Pentecostal churches, so much so that they have become dirty words. In many case these terms have been associated with communism, or with the surrender of the Evangelical Church to the Catholic Church.
The Greek term oikoumene from which comes the word ecumenism and which refers to the inhabited world, is found many more times in the Bible than the word mission. Oikoumene evokes the concept of universality. It speaks about the unity of the Church, of the Christians, of the world, of creation, of the universe, of the people of God. The oikoumene is the place where we live, is the household of all, is the place where we can live together with a minimum of wellbeing. The Psalmist says: "The earth (oikoumene) is the Lord's and all that is in it, the world and those who live in it".
Therefore, to speak about ecumenism is to speak of unity and cooperation. Unity and cooperation for what? How? With whom? Is it meant as unity and cooperation among the Christians or the whole created world? Is it an inclusive or an exclusive unity?
There are those who seek unity or encounter with the other in order to confront others, to destroy, annihilate and kill. Some alliances are forged for the sake of killing. That was the case of the Gulf War, or the invasion of Haiti. It is also the case of large religious sectors in Latin America which conclude alliances with the ruling powers to impose their faith and ideology as the absolute truth, denying the faith of other peoples and other religious groups.
There are those who seek unity and encounter among themselves in order to liberate, to build, plant, edify together a peaceful world, more just and more human, reconciling the human being with God, with itself and with the entire creation. Ecumenism and unity of the Church are important to the extent that this unity is a means for unity-reconciliation and liberation of the inhabited world (oikoumene) which remains deeply divided and enslaved by corruption.
It is said that a Council is ecumenical when churches and denominations from a variety of confessions and from different parts of the world participate in it. However, the call to unity found in the Epistle to the Ephesians goes beyond the unity of the Christians or among the churches only. It is a call for the re-union of all created things in Christ. That is to say: to gather what is divided. Verses 9 and 10 of the first chapter present to us God who has given us to know the mystery of his will which is: "... to gather up all things in Christ, things in heaven and things on earth" - as a plan for the fullness of time.
The central point in Ephesians is the reunion of all things in Christ. Christ is the center linking up everything. He is the center in which all things unite.
Barclay has said that the world is a battlefield of teeth and claws. The dominion of man by man has broken the social union, the fellowship that should exist in humankind. The human being has erected boundaries between the nations and caused divisions between one and the other to the point of bringing them to war. The Epistle to the Ephesians says that the way to restore this broken human fellowship is to unite all men and women, all the powers in Christ Jesus.
Thus if God's purpose in relation to the creation is its unity-reconciliation and its liberation from the slavery of corruption to which the powers of this world have submitted it, and if Christ is God's instrument to bring about this unity- reconciliation and liberation of the creation, then the Church of Christ is or should be the instrument of Christ for this unity-reconciliation and liberation of the creation from its present state of bondage and decay (Romans 8: 19-23). This is our vision of unity.
II. THE PROCESS OF PENTECOSTAL UNITY AND COOPERATION IN LATIN AMERICA
The process we are going to present here is the experience in which a large sector of the Pentecostal movement in Latin America is involved as a response to the felt need for cooperation and unity among Pentecostals in this continent and as a contribution to the mission of the universal Church.
a) The Latin American Kairos: A Challenge to the Pentecostal Churches
The major problem that Latin Americans face is the 500 years-long historical crisis, a burden caused by forces opposed to the kingdom of God that has plunged our continent in anguish, despair and misery greater than any force could ever produce.
Hunger, misery, marginalization, poverty, injustice, repression, exploitation have become the dominant characteristics of the down-trodden of this continent. Therefore this Latin American context is one of the great challenges for the process of unity and cooperation among Pentecostals in Latin America.
This explains the importance which the analysis of the national and Latin American conjuncture is acquiring in our debates and gatherings and why our pastoral and prophetic work is rooted in the slums, favelas and poor communities of the continent. Our churches are, on the whole, made up of peasants, indigenous people, workers, students, taxi-drivers, women, blacks, youth etc. In this respect, we are calling on the living forces of Pentecostalism in Latin America and the Caribbean to take on, with renewed urgency, the historical role it must play in favour of the unity of the Church and of the creation in the current historical juncture of the continent.
b) Pentecostalism and the disregarded: Women, Indigenous People, Youth, Children etc.
In all the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean the blacks, the indigenous peoples, the youth, the children and the women are victims of social, economic, cultural, racial, religious and gender discrimination; they are what we call the disregarded sectors.
Generally speaking, Pentecostalism as a social and religious phenomenon in this continent does not present itself as a dominant group but as a phenomenon linked to the lower strata of the society. Pentecostalism in Latin America and the Caribbean is mostly composed of churches of the popular classes in which the disregarded sectors basically form the majority. It is interesting that Pentecostalism as a social and religious phenomenon in Latin America seems to translate the Christian message in the terms of the popular classes. "A type of mass democracy with charismatic leaders, a mass organization which implies the solidarity of all and the participation of each one within a framework in which the group is more important than the individual" (Christian Lalive d'Epinay).
In this sense, the forsaken and poorest sectors of the population find in the praxis of Pentecostalism a kind of participation that the dominant society denies them. Thus it is possible that the Pentecostal Church in Latin American is transforming itself into a place where the marginalized resist their marginalization in a society dominated by minority groups which intend to maintain the poorest sectors of the continent in anonymity. To be sure we cannot make this assertion inclusive of all Pentecostalism, but we are endeavouring to call and bring together around this process of Pentecostal unity and cooperation that Pentecostal movement that in Latin America has expressed its concern for these forsaken sectors.
C) Pentecostal Identity
As part of a process of search and authenticity, this project of Pentecostal unity and cooperation in Latin America stresses the need to examine and study in depth the origins of our Pentecostal faith in order to discover the events that have marked us as catalyzing agents of social, cultural and religious changes, and the models of social participation that have characterized our movement. It is also necessary to study the theological roots and to review the theological inheritage that we have received from the Pentecostals of Western Protestantism.
D) Pentecostalism and Ecumenism
In our time and since many years Pentecostal men and women in Latin America have engaged in the search for the unity of the body of Christ and of all created things. It is a search that has traveled a long way. We have not done this alone or in isolation, but as part of the broader movement which seeks the unity of the body of Christ and of creation. The Pentecostal participation in this journey has made its marks. Thus we recall the words of our Pentecostal brothers and sisters who in 1979, in Huampani, Peru, made theirs the prayer of our Lord, by affirming:
"We have come with our heart open to the guidance of the Holy Spirit and ready for a profound reflection on what it means for us to be the Church of the Lord, without ignoring our different doctrinal, liturgical and organizational positions. We confess our faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour and our conviction that the Holy Spirit continues to work in our time, baptizing men and women with its power and enabling the Church through its charisma and ministries to fulfill its redeeming mission for all human beings: the slaves of personal sin, those who are the object of violence and those who suffer the destitution of their being as sons and daughters of God because of unjust systems, etc."
To deepen the experience of the unity of the Spirit means for us Pentecostals who participate in the process of unity and cooperation in Latin America, a vivid communitarian experience that is manifesting itself clearly in the solidarity of all and the participation of each one. This encompasses the whole creation of God, its stewardship and integrity and emerges from the authentic experience of the Holy Spirit itself. For the Holy Spirit is the integrated principle that inspires, moves and gives coherence to the entire evangelizing, prophetic and healing task of the Church.