Called To God’s Mission

Called To God’s Mission

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Pneuma 42 (2020) 255–262 pentecostal Theology Called to God’s Mission Notes on the Third Document of the International Reformed–Pentecostal Dialogue Jean-Daniel Plüss European Pentecostal Charismatic Research Association, Vitznau, Switzerland Abstract The following reflection will look at the document that resulted the International Reformed—Pentecostal Dialogue. It will highlight the context in which mission is rel- evant to both ecclesial traditions. In the end attention will be drawn to the language in which this text was written and what that tells us about developing ecumenical rela- tions between Reformed and Pentecostal churches. Keywords ecumenical dialogue – mission – reformed churches The international dialogue between the World Communion of Reformed Churches and some classical Pentecostals began in 1996. At the end of the first round of talks a common document was released called “Word and Spirit: Church and World” in 2001.1 The second round produced a report entitled “Experience in Christian Faith and Life” in 2011.2The group came together again 1 “Word and Spirit, Church and World: Final Report of the International Dialogue between Representatives of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and Some Classical Pentecostal Churches and Leaders 1996–2000,”Pneuma23, no. 1 (2001): 9–43. When the World Alliance of Reformed Churches merged with the Reformed Ecumenical Council in 2010, the name was changed to the World Communion of Reformed Churches. 2 “Experience in Christian Faith and Life—Worship, Discipleship, Discernment, Community, and Justice: The Report of the International Dialogue between Representatives of the World © koninklijke brill nv, leiden, 2020 | doi:10.1163/15700747-bja10021 ========1========256 plüss in 2014 and decided to focus on mission during the third round of their dia- logue. The following reflection will look at the resulting document3 and high- light the context in which mission is relevant to both ecclesial traditions. In the end attention will be drawn to the language in which this text was written and what that tells us about developing ecumenical relations between Reformed and pentecostal churches. 1 Introductory Remarks The first paragraph of the introduction invites the reader to engage with this text by proclaiming, “We live in exciting times!” and begins with an important statement, “This document is a testimony to how Pentecostal and Reformed Christians respond together to God’s mission into which we have been called. We are exploring together what we think is important for the mission of the Church today” (1).4This statement is important for two reasons. First, the inten- tion of responding and exploring together is clearly stated. Second, the way such an approach is possible is based on the fundamental understanding that all mission is first and foremost God’s mission, themissio Dei. If Christians, regardless of their denominational affiliation, are participants in God’s mission that pivots on the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and is continued in the power of the Holy Spirit, then several consequences result. Primarily, “the different Church families in the world cannot afford to engage in mission in a manner that promotes division and competition” (3). God’s mis- sion cannot be divided with itself. As a result, “a theology of mission needs to be dialogical” (6). But there is also a very practical reason for common inter- est. “Since the world of the 21st century is interconnected, Pentecostal and Reformed churches increasingly face similar issues” (5). A concern by both groups to read the signs of the times lead to the formulation of four questions (7) that would guide this dialogue through the following years. Alliance of Reformed Churches and Some Classical Pentecostal Churches and Leaders 2001– 2011,” Cyberjournal for Pentecostal-Charismatic Research 21 (2012), accessed May 26, 2020, 3 “Called to God’s Mission: Report of the Third Round of the International Dialogue between Representatives of the World Communion of Reformed Churches and Some Classical Pente- costal Churches and Leaders 2014–2020,” available online at WCRC‑Pentecostal_2020.html. 4 Paragraph references for each quotation from “Called to God’s Mission” are given in paren- theses in the text. Pneuma 42 (2020) 255–262 ========2========called to god’s mission 257 – How does our understanding of the nature and scope of salvation influence the way we think about and practice mission? – How do we view the issue of power and the role of the Holy Spirit when we speak about mission? – In what way does the unity of the church impact the nature and effective- ness of mission? – How do our views of eschatology affect our practice of mission? These questions resonated with both dialogue teams, and the participants felt that the focus on soteriology, pneumatology, ecclesiology, and eschatology would also encourage further conversations and common witness toward the kingdom of God. 2 Mission and Salvation One of the first questions discussed was whether Reformed and pentecostal Christians understood the same thing when talking about salvation. Is mis- sion limited toward the spiritual salvation of people? The dialogue participants agreed that it is always God who takes the initiative in creation and salvation. Once this free gift of salvation has been received, gratitude is expressed in faith- fully responding to God’s mission by witnessing in life, word, and deed. “Such mission leads to discipleship and human flourishing. By participating in God’s mission, we are fulfilling our Lord’s call on us to be the salt and light to the world” (10). Of course, the mission of the church, which is first and foremost God’s mis- sion, will always take place in particular cultural, economic, political, religious, social, and other contexts.The church will respond to particular challenges and be a sign of the kingdom of God as a community of love, justice, freedom, and peace (13). God’s plan of redemption embraces all humanity and creation. Sal- vation is a spiritual reality that impacts life as a whole (14). The dialogue partners felt that misunderstandings and stereotypes needed to be addressed. For instance, mission is more than evangelism.The term “evan- gelization” was chosen to reflect the wider horizon of God’s mission, to include all aspects of human flourishing willed by God in the face of suffering, weak- ness, poverty, and illness. Our respective traditions, it was argued, have tended to label each other’s practices as either exclusively spiritual or mainly social in character. Such stereotypical characterizations should be avoided. At the same time there are differences in emphasis and vocabulary. These can be seen as a means for learning, not as an excuse for division. The doc- ument therefore continues to explore the Reformed and pentecostal under- Pneuma 42 (2020) 255–262 ========3========258 plüss standing of mission and salvation (21–27). “For the Reformed there is an inte- gral relationship between justification and justice” (21). It is God who brings about justice, but God’s people are invited to participate in God’s transform- ing work. Hence, good works reflect God’s grace in them, faith that is active in love. The pentecostal understanding would emphasize “that the saving of souls is the most urgent and priority task of mission” (25), but that, at the same time, they have a holistic understanding of salvation. Healing and miracles, for instance, play a significant role in mission. Furthermore, holistic mission refers to the spiritual-bodily-social-political-economic dimensions of abundant life. Pentecostal notions of “social holiness” and “just compassion” are derived from Scripture (Prov 21:3 and Jer 9:24, respectively) (27). The section on mission and salvation ends with an affirmation that these differences are not issues that divide, but rather are sources of mutual enrich- ment because they point into the same direction. Such affirmations need to be shared within the wider church. 3 The Holy Spirit and Mission For pentecostals mission cannot be effective without the concrete and power- ful work of the Holy Spirit demonstrating the truth of the good news of Jesus Christ. In a postcolonial context, however, the vocabulary of power needs to be examined. This section of the document begins by stating that the work of the Holy Spirit needs to be understood within the context of the triune God. The Holy Spirit reveals the Spirit of Christ and continues his ministry. “Just as God has been self-giving in the incarnation of Christ, so also is God self-giving in the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost” (30). It follows that “(l)ife in the Spirit is at the core of the Church and is the essence of its mission” (31). This has two consequences: life in the Spirit (a pentecostal concern, often expressed by an individual response) is vital, and life in the Spirit must be reflected through the church (a Reformed concern, often emphasizing a col- lective response). Pentecostals and Reformed affirm that their theologies emphasize an encounter with God that is both individual and communal. It is God who sends, it is God who gifts, and it is God who also empowers. When churches speak of empowerment in mission, then this calls for caution, “since power can be corrupted in the actions of the believers, or even confused with very selfish human claims of power” (36). In this context the document explicitly mentions shortcomings of zealous missionaries, colonial entanglement, and Pneuma 42 (2020) 255–262 ========4========called to god’s mission 259 self-centered accumulation of wealth and power (41). Hence “(a)ll claims to empowerment require discernment in connection and keeping with God’s mis- sion” (37). As God has bestowed gifts on all Christians, sensitivity to the presence and movement of the Holy Spirit is needed. The ability to contextualize is very important because God’s mission transcends all cultural and political identi- ties (38), and it is the context that shapes the way Christians are called, respond, and participate in God’s mission (39). Again, there are different emphases in how pentecostal ad Reformed Chris- tians discern God’s guidance for the work of mission. For instance, Pentecostals emphasize the urgency of proclaiming the gospel and expect that something extraordinary can happen. That has, on occasion, inspired faith missions to arise, often born of personal initiative. On the other hand, Reformed Chris- tians have usually called “for the need for greater discernment by the larger Church” (45). Both dialogue teams felt that they can learn from one another. Greater accountability is needed, especially with individual initiatives, and it is also necessary to be attentive not to repress the voices of the few by a larger apparatus. Again, the two approaches can become mutually enriching. “Pente- costals and Reformed can learn and correct each other” (47). There has been a lot of consensus among the pentecostal and Reformed teams of this dialogue. Both “acknowledge God’s presence in the advancement of justice, reconcili- ation, and peace, and in their mission, they strive to overcome unjust social, racial, economic, and political systems” (46). 4 Mission and the Unity of the Church Although Reformed and pentecostal churches have long histories of evange- lization and mission, in the past they had little to do with one another. But from the sayings of Jesus and the writings of the apostles it is clear that disci- pleship is part of mission and that unity is of the essence. Actions that exclude one another, then, will have a negative impact on the message of reconciliation that is proclaimed in word and deed (49). There are no alternative messages for Christians. God calls the church to proclaim with a single voice and purpose the Good News of God’s reconciliation in Christ. “It is little wonder that we find many believers today yearning for the rediscovery of our unity in forms that challenge us to greater faithfulness, and add to the integrity of the Good News that God has made possible, our reconciliation to God and to one another” (55). At the same time, it is clear that within that one church there is great diver- sity. There are different roles to play; the church is developing in different cul- Pneuma 42 (2020) 255–262 ========5========260 plüss tures. The Apostle Paul is quoted as celebrating diversity in the church, when all members work together for the common good. The dialogue participants lament that there are churches that justify their own raison d’être instead of recognizing one church working together in multiple congregations, a form of unity in reconciled diversity (59). This is the paradox: on one hand, mission has been a uniting force, bringing Christians from different doctrinal perspectives and ecclesial organizations together in common witness. On the other hand, however, “many times mission efforts have been carried out in ways that deny the unity of Christ’s Church” (60). The Reformed reminded the Pentecostals that the unity of the church is both a gift and a calling from God. The Pente- costals noted that many early pentecostal leaders, such as William J. Seymour, yearned for unity between the entire People of God (61). Jesus prayed for unity, and the dialogue participants recognize that in Christ they share a unity that is more than spiritual. “This is why we work toward a growing collaboration with one another, engage in theological dialogue, and cooperate on missional projects from, with, and between local congregations. Together, we support those groups that organize to provide aid to the needy, work to end world hunger, support the care and nurture of children, work in peace-making endeavors, provide for the care of God’s creation, and many other things. We are grateful for the improving relationships that make coop- eration and partnership in such ministries possible!” (62). The final paragraph in this section brings the issue of unity in mission to a point. “What do we have when everything is said and done? Does the unity of the church affect the effectiveness or the nature of mission? Absolutely! All of these expressions of the church working together come under the man- date, ‘Go and make disciples.’ Everyone is to proclaim the coming Kingdom of God. All of us are calling people to be reconciled with God and with one another. As Reformed and pentecostal followers of Jesus, we are part of the ‘All.’ Our common task is to carry the ‘Good News’ to everyone, informing them of the reconciliation that Jesus paid for, through his death and resurrection, and demonstrating the power that we have received through the Holy Spirit, to make a difference in the lives of all with whom we come into contact, and beyond. By bearing witness to our unity, we will make a difference in the world” (66). 5 Mission and Eschatology This section of the document raises the question of whether the Reformed and pentecostal views of eschatology affect their respective understanding of Pneuma 42 (2020) 255–262 ========6========called to god’s mission 261 mission. Historically both traditions had their own developing understanding of the last things. Now they find themselves newly challenged by God’s time. On the one hand, Pentecostals, who originally were guided by great urgency, now make plans toward holistic mission, from “building schools, colleges, res- cue shelters, and hospitals, to establishing ministries that serve and empower people on the margins of society as Christ build new lives.” On the other hand, the Reformed rediscover the apocalyptic worldview of the New Testament and, quoting the Accra Confession, point to a sense of eschatological urgency (72). Mission engagement needs an eschatological horizon that communicates hope in a world marked increasingly by fear and despair (67). God has done a new thing in raising Jesus from the dead. The surprise of Easter is that the risen Christ is the first fruit of the new creation (73). But the surprise of Easter is followed by the surprise of Pentecost, with the inbreaking of the Holy Spirit creating a new community. To live eschatologically is to celebrate God’s new creation of which we are part (79). The dialogue also discussed how God’s judgment is understood in the two traditions (76, 77). The commitment to justice in the light of Christ’s judgment on the cross makes both Reformed and pentecostal Christians responsible and looking for the triumph of God’s justice. 6 Where Do We Go from Here? In this final section the pentecostal and Reformed participants express how they have come to know and respect each other and that together they commit themselves in a variety of ways (81). They also suggest opportunities for further agreement by mentioning issues that could be discussed in the future (82). The document ends with a doxology, as it was felt that it was Christ Jesus who called the two groups together. They found much more in common than they had expected. Despite disagreements, an unforeseen level of respect developed. They hope that others will join in following the mission to which God has called all of us. 7 Concluding Considerations “Called to God’s Mission” will be read as a document that stands on its own. But it is worthwhile looking at the larger context because there has been a remarkable development since the first unofficial encounter between repre- sentatives of Reformed and pentecostal churches met at Mattersey, England, Pneuma 42 (2020) 255–262 ========7========262 plüss in 1995. At that time the basic question was whether a meaningful dialogue between the two traditions was possible and meaningful. Fortunately, it was decided that a dialogue should take place. The document “Word and Spirit: Church and World” that was published after the first round of talks in 2001 basically reads like a position paper, comparing theological and ecclesiolog- ical methods. The title itself hints at dichotomies between different realms, and in the introduction it was noted that “members of the pentecostal and Reformed communities are uncomfortable with one another.”5 Nevertheless, the first round of talks was an important step in building trust and acknowledg- ing common convictions. The document of the second round of the dialogue, “Experience in Christian Faith and Life: Worship, Discipleship, Discernment, Community, and Justice,” was more practical in approach. It was a shift from contrast and comparison to common exploration.6 However, old practices die hard: “From the outset, widely different understandings of discernment made discussion difficult, with each team suspecting that the other lacked apprecia- tion for discernment’s complete biblical, theological, and ecclesial substance” [11]. Even so, the second document substantially helped to clarify issues; it emphasized convergences and challenges that each group had received from the other. There was a movement from “them” to “us” [173]. With that in mind, this third document clearly illustrates that a new level of ecumenical relations between Reformed and pentecostal Christians is possible. In fact, the develop- ment of Christianity, especially in the Global South, calls for new ways. This document demonstrates that the two ecclesial traditions have an obligation to engage in God’s mission for common witness and service, for justice and peace, wherever the opportunity arises. The third report of the International Reformed-Pentecostal Dialogue can be found at 5 “Word and Spirit, Church and World,” 10. 6 “Experience in Christian Faith and Life” §5; future references to paragraphs in brackets. Pneuma 42 (2020) 255–262 ========8========

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