Pentecostalism

There is another side of these developments. Some years ago it was noted that as liberation theologians were preaching the option for the poor in

Byung Mu Ahn, 'Jesus and People (Minjung)' in Sugirtharajah, Asian Faces of Jesus, p. 166; cf. Byung Mu Ahn, 'Jesus and the Minjung in the Gospel of Mark' in R.S. Sugirtharajah, Voices from the Margin: Interpreting the Bible in the Third World, 2nd edn (London: SPCK, 1995), pp. 85—104.

Latin America, the poor were opting for the Pentecostal churches. The same phenomenon is present in Asia as well. The Theology Committee of the National Council of Churches in Korea, in responding to Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry, noted that the common characteristic of the liturgical practices of the Protestant Churches in Korea was freedom from liturgical forms 'due to the influence of the Pentecostal movement'. This was another reason why they felt that BEM was of very little concern to most of the churches in Korea: to disregard that situation and to continue to discuss and implement the document was to ignore the third-world churches and impose 'the theological agenda of the first-world churches on the rest of the people of God in the world'.36 But the influence of pentecostalism in Korea is very significant: the Yoido Full Gospel Pentecostal Church with a membership of 800,000 was the largest congregation in the world in 1996, having grown from an initial membership of five in 1958.37

It has sometimes been argued that pentecostalism essentially represents the expansion of North American influence, and that it is a religious manifestation of globalization. There is some truth in this view. However, there is also abundant evidence of the indigenization of pentecostal spirituality. Harvey Cox has even argued that in the Korean case the expansion of pentecostalism represents the development in Christian clothes of traditional shamanism.38 This may or may not be a helpful analogy. It is important not to confuse what may happen in the first generation with the long-term results. For example, Pope Gregory I advised St Augustine, when he was engaged in the evangelization of England at the beginning of the seventh century, that it was permissible to use the sites of previous Anglo-Saxon pagan worship, provided that they were consecrated to God; and there is considerable evidence from the evangelization of northern Europe that traditional sites and occasionally rites were taken over and used for Christian worship. In Rome itself the Pantheon had been converted into a Christian church. This could be regarded as a sensible strategy to indigenize Christianity. It would be fanciful to argue that anyone in England or Rome today still associates the main centres of Christian worship with their pre-Christian past. But 1,500 or more years of Christian history have passed since the original changes.

3 Thurian, Churches respond to BEM, vi, p. 135.

H. Cox, Fire from Heaven: The Rise of Pentecostal Spirituality and the Reshaping of Religion in the 38 Twenty-First Century (London: Cassell, 1996), p. 221. Ibid., pp. 225—41.

The perception is not the same for those who are much closer to a pre-Christian past, and indeed may not have been so in Europe circa ad 800.

The real question, however, is how to relate such pentecostal manifestations of theology to the kind of theological agenda sketched so far. They cannot simply be ignored because an alternative theological emphasis is preferred: they are an inescapable part of the map. This is the more true for East Asia because it is clear that a strand within the Chinese Church, and probably the largest, has been firmly evangelical and almost pentecostal in emphasis for many years. Bishop Ting in China did not turn to a liberationist Christology, partly because of his own beliefs about Christ and also because the unity of the church in China could not be maintained on such a basis 'because of the strength of Christian fundamentalism among many ordinary believers'.39 The nature and concerns of the house church movement in China are quite as important on the theological map as the Three-Self Patriotic Movement. Consequently it is misleading to suggest that authentic Asian theology represents a different range of theological options from that found in the West.

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