"Pentecostalism and Ecumenism:Past, Present, and Future"
III. Ecumenical Pentecostalism: A Historical Overview
by Amos Yong
From the Summer 2001 issue (Vol 4, No 3) of the PNEUMA REVIEW
I hope to have shown that Pentecostal anti-ecumenism stems in part from theological convictions imported into rather than derived from the Pentecostal experience of the Spirit. Such importations have inhibited Pentecostals from a genuine understanding of what the biblical ecumenism stands for. On the other hand, it has also certainly been the case historically that there has been a lack of spiritual fervor within the mainline churches, especially in terms of how Pentecostals gauge these expressions. Going back to the biblical material in section I, however, this should come as no surprise. Different communities of faith bring different gifts to the one body of Christ. It goes without saying that these various communities also bring different liabilities and have diverse struggles.
My goals in this and the next section are threefold. First, I would like to demonstrate that Pentecostalism and ecumenism have not been inherently antithetical historically. This historically oriented presentation supplements the biblical and theological arguments presented in the first two sections. Secondly, I want to make a similar case on behalf of the ecumenical movement. I wish to show that historically, ecumenists have shared many of the convictions and goals of Pentecostals. Third, however, I also want to demonstrate that the devil is at work not only on "their" side but on both sides of the fence. The history of God's work among the people of God always features both triumphs and failures, and this applies to both ecumenists and Pentecostals alike.
Let me begin with what I call "ecumenical Pentecostalism." I want to focus in what follows on the ecumenical character of Pentecostalism in three stages. There is, first, the ecumenism of the Azusa Street revival. Second, there is the ecumenism of the charismatic renewal. Finally, there is the ecumenism now inherent within a Pentecostalism that has grown to be a global phenomenon. Let me overview each in order.
Azusa Street ecumenism
One of the least well-known facts about the Azusa Street revival is its multi-racial environment. This is especially remarkable given the segregationist mentality prevalent in North America during the first half of the twentieth century. From 1906-1908, the Azusa Street mission drew persons from several races, ethnic groups, cultures and nationalities together in worship. Blacks and whites were found worshipping and singing together, tarrying before the Lord and praying for one another, "mingling and even touching[!] in the mission." One participant recollected that at Azusa Street, "the 'color line' was washed away in the blood." What happened at Azusa Street, in other words, was unprecedented. The result was not only a transformation of hearts, but also a tearing down of barriers to the experience of genuine Christian unity such that "there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all" (Col. 3:11; cf. 1 Cor. 12:13, and Gal. 3:28 which adds "male or female").
That the ecumenical miracle at Azusa Street did not last is also a well-known historical fact. Whites and blacks formed their own denominations due to the socio-economic and political pressures in force at that time. White Pentecostals drifted toward their yankee (read fundamentalist and, later, evangelical) relatives, thus forging alliances that have, in more recent times, left many Pentecostals wondering what has happened to the Pentecostal fervor. Many contemporary Pentecostals complain that one can attend any Pentecostal service on a Sunday morning today, and feel as if one were in a Baptist, Covenant, Alliance or other evangelical-type congregation. This is the case, however, only among white Pentecostal churches and denominations. Black Pentecostals have continued to emphasize the shout, the dance, the sway, the clap, and the many other electrifying features of the Azusa Street revival. This parting of ways has signified, in some respect, the socio-economic distinctions between whites and blacks in this country. Upwardly mobile whites moved farther and farther away from lower class blacks, leaving, in places, a chasm unbridgeable (sad to say) even for a Spirit-led people. In hindsight, it is seen that Pentecostals squandered a golden opportunity to continue as a prophetic voice not only on racial and ethnic issues, but also on socio-economic ones as well. Racial discrimination and socio-economic segregation would persist for another sixty plus years before being legally confronted. What might have happened if the original ecumenical character of Pentecostalism would have persisted and developed instead?
Even in light of the civil rights movements of the 1960s and 70s, however, Pentecostals have been slow to respond to the need for racial reconciliation. It was not until October 1994 when the all white Pentecostal Fellowship of North America (PFNA) voted to dissolve and reconstitute as a racially inclusive group. The result was the emergence of the Pentecostal/Charismatic Churches of North America (PCCNA). Whites and blacks were led to seek forgiveness from and dispense forgiveness to each other, celebrate the Lord's Supper together, and, at one point, participate jointly in a spontaneous foot-washing ceremony. One should not disparage the import of this "Memphis Miracle," as it has come to be called. As the old saying goes, better late than never. One cannot help but lament, however, the fact that rather than being the pacesetters in reconciliation, Pentecostals have been slow in acting out the impulses inherent within its original ecumenical experience.
This original ecumenical Pentecostalism was not limited to racial and ethnic distinctions in the body of Christ. As will be noted below, the modern ecumenical movement also began about the same time, and early Pentecostals were not oblivious to those developments. Further, these Pentecostals also recognized the denominationally schismatic nature of the body of Christ, especially in its Protestant forms. Their encounter with the Spirit thus led them to envision that the Pentecostal outpouring would be central to re-experiencing Christian unity. Such unity cannot emerge from structural or organizational efforts, but only through the healing presence of the Spirit of God.
In short, early Pentecostals did understand the ecumenical significance of the Pentecostal experience of the Spirit. Thus, the founding of classical Pentecostal denominations like the Assemblies of God brought together individuals from a variety of backgrounds: Keswick Reformed, Wesleyan Holiness, revivalist, Baptistic, African American, and so on. Their motivation was common mission in the power of the Spirit, whether such be with regard to the taking of the gospel to foreign lands, social, publication or educational projects, and the cultivation of Pentecostal faith. This also explains why the Assemblies of God as well as other early Pentecostal groups saw themselves as movements rather than denominations. The latter were stigmatized as dead and lifeless organizations, whereas the former were inherently more dynamic entities conducive to the Spirit's guidance and invigoration. Inevitably, however, institutionalization processes set in, leaving groups like the Assemblies of God practically indistinguishable from established churches and mainline denominations in terms of organizational structure.
The ecumenism of neo-Pentecostalism
This may explain, in part, the flowering of the charismatic renewalalso called "neo-Pentecostalism"in the mainline churches in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, what I call the second stage of ecumenical Pentecostalism. The fact is that by this time, the Pentecostal experience of the Spirit had ceased to be a unifying force for Christians. Rather, denominational lines had hardened, and the power of the Spirit to bring people together from diverse branches of Christendom was being resisted by the various human-made boundaries that had emerged in Pentecostal churches over the course of a generation. Ironically, those who participated in the renewal movements in the mainline churches also began to see the ecumenical potential of the experience of the Spirit. These neo-Pentecostals or charismatics recognized that the vitality imparted to Christian faith by the pentecostal outpouring was a common experience that cut across creedal, denominational, liturgical, traditional, and theological/doctrinal lines.
Of course, classical Pentecostals were initially--and for quite a while, actually--rather suspicious of the authenticity of the charismatic renewal movement. These misgivings were especially intensified upon the outbreak of charismatic revival in the Roman Catholic Church in the latter half of the 1960s. Pentecostals were incredulous that followers of the antichristfollowing Luther's initial labeling of the Popecould have anything to do with the distinctive Pentecostal experience! Yet for many of these churches, ecumenical activities were sustained and furthered precisely because of the acknowledged commonality of experiencing the Spirit's presence and activity. For many Christians, the pentecostal experience of the Spirit meant a revitalized spiritual life, increased Bible reading, intensified devotional piety, the manifestation of the charismata including speaking in other tongues, renewed appreciation for liturgical and sacramental worship, deeper motivation toward social action, and, most important for our purposes, stronger ties with all those who call upon the name of the Lord.
Over the past few decades, however, Pentecostal fears regarding the charismatic renewal in the established churches have been calmed. This has been enabled in part by the development of Pentecostal relationships with more evangelical type denominations and groups. Models of Christian unity centered around common mission such as Billy Graham crusades, World Vision famine relief endeavors, and parachurch ministries like InterVarsity, Women's Aglow and the Full Gospel Businessmen's Fellowship International have mollified Pentecostal apprehensions and actually encouraged Pentecostal participation and koinonia with non-Pentecostals. As Pentecostals have come to know non-Pentecostals in a deeper way in these joint efforts, they have come to appreciate the diversity present in the body of Christ. And, of course, they have also begun to open themselves up to the power that a biblical ecumenism affords the Church's witness.
What was lost, however, was the opportunity to influence the mainline denominations in more intentional ways. As previously noted, the onset of the charismatic renewal movement in the 50s and 60s raised many questions for the established churches. These initially turned to Pentecostals for assistance in understanding their newly-found experiences. Outside of discerning and capable individuals like David DuPlessis, however, few classical Pentecostals responded. At that time, this served only to confirm mainline stereotypes of Pentecostals as fundamentalistic and sectarian. Since then, Pentecostal relationships with the mainline churches have come a long way. What remains, however, is the long-standing reluctance among Pentecostals to be associated with structural efforts at church unity, especially those derived from organized ecumenical activities such as those of the National Council of Churches (NCC) and the WCC.
Before turning more specifically to "organized ecumenism," however, one more word must be said concerning the kind of ecumenical Pentecostalism that now permeates the movement in its global forms. The remarkable power of the Pentecostal experience to bridge not only denominational differences but also to speak to the hearts of people that come from divergent institutional, geographic, cultural, political, and religious backgrounds has recently been dawning on those perceptive to recent trends and developments. Revivals like those at Toronto and Pensacola (Brownsville), for example, have reached staggering numbers, many of whom would never have been found together under the same roof or have broken the same bread apart from their life-transforming encounter with the Spirit of God. The masses have come from every continent to experience the power of God, and have returned to their places of origin full of the Holy Spirit. This is not to affirm all that goes on at these prolonged evangelistic campaigns. It is, however, to testify to the unitive power of what I call ecumenical Pentecostalism.
Global ecumenism and global Pentecostalism
And this unique ecumenical Pentecostalism is by no means confined to revivalist phenomena either. In fact, Pentecostalism in its global forms has now reached such proportions that recent estimates believe the number of Pentecostals and charismatics of all stripes to exceed 500 million. The startling fact is that a very small percentage of these are of the classical type of Pentecostalism found in North America. In fact, the Pentecostal boom is taking place in such faraway places as Latin and South America, sub-Saharan Africa, and even inland China. These have not been indoctrinated into the Assemblies of God sixteen Fundamental Truths, or any like statement. Rather what makes people embrace the Pentecostal message is their experience of the power of the Spirit of God. Common faith, in the global Pentecostal context, is not predicated upon the unity of doctrinal or theological beliefs, but rather on the unity of the Spirit's presence and activity.
Before being triumphalistic about the incredible growth of Pentecostal movements worldwide, however, the potential difficulties associated with such developments should be frankly acknowledged. Pentecostals are just as guilty of schisms as any other Protestant group. Such belong to the infancy of Pentecostalism as seen in the debates over the oneness or trinitarian character of God or Spirit-baptism as a second or third blessing. The problematic caused by Oneness denominations remains to the present since Oneness adherents number up to one-fourth of Pentecostals worldwide. More recently, the emergence of new religious movements on the North American scene have included groups like The Way, International, and Christian Identity Movement that have been founded and endorsed by isolated and sectarian individuals nurtured within (among other groups) Pentecostalism.
Multiplied to a global scale, however, the phenomenon of religious syncretism is now what poses the greatest threat to worldwide Pentecostalism. Some have charged the African independent, charismatic or Spirit-churches with being a bridge back toward native or tribal religious practices instead. The claim is that charismatic movements in Africa have so interpreted Christian beliefs and practices within the context of African indigenous religious that they have compromised distinctive faith in Christ. Such charges are far from absent in other parts of the world as well. In South American Brazil, the religious folk people go to the Catholic priest for births, marriages and burials, to Afro-Brazilian shamans for relief from nightmares, and to Pentecostal churches when they are sick and desire healing. Most notably, in Korea, skeptics have accused Korean Pentecostal ministers of practicing a form of Korean shamanism in Christian guise. My intention here is neither to confirm or deny these allegations, but solely to bring up the importance of discernment, even of anything that might fly under the banner of "Pentecostalism." Historically, revival movements have always been accompanied by the genuine and the spurious. The contemporary global Pentecostal explosion is no different. We should rejoice in the things that God is doing upon discerning that. We should also exercise caution and discernment with regard to distinguishing the presence and activity of the Holy Spirit from that of other spirits.
The same goes for our relationship to and participation with the ecumenical movement. The point is not to avoid the ecumenical movement since, in a very real sense, Pentecostals have always been ecumenical even though most of us have not realized this before. Rather, ecumenical Pentecostalism should emphasize discerning participation. As a global movement, it has no other choice. There is no place left to withdraw to. Pentecostal mission, whether we like it or not, includes the ecumenical dimension.
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 So as not to bog down the reader, I will forego detailed documentation in these historical sub-sections in favor of a brief reading list at the end of this essay.
 Dale T. Irvin, "'Drawing All Together into One Bond of Love': The Ecumenical Vision of William J. Seymour and the Azusa Street Revival," Journal of Pentecostal Theology
6 (1995): 46.
 Frank Bartleman, Azusa Street: The Roots of Modern-day Pentecost
(1925; reprint, Plainfield, NJ: Logos International, 1980), 54.
 For details, see the "Roundtable: Racial Reconciliation" articles by Frank Macchia, Ithiel Clemmons, Leonard Lovett, Manuel Gaxiola-Gaxiola, Samuel Solivan, and Cecil M. Robeck, Jr., in the spring 1996 issue of Pneuma: The Journal of the Society for Pentecostal Studies.
 This vision was prominent in early Pentecostal literature such as William Seymour's Azusa Street periodical, The Apostolic Faith
Amos Yong is Research Professor of Systematic Theology and Director of the Doctor of Philosophy Program at Regent University School of Divinity in Virginia Beach, Virginia. His graduate education includes degrees in theology, history, and religious studies from Western Evangelical Seminary and Portland State University, Portland, Oregon, and Boston University, Boston, Massachusetts. Dr. Yong has served as a pastor, educator, conference speaker, and is the author of numerous papers and books including The Spirit Poured Out on All Flesh: Pentecostalism and the Possibility of Global Theology (Baker Academic, 2005), Theology and Down Syndrome: Reimagining Disability in Late Modernity (Baylor University Press, 2007), and Hospitality and the Other: Pentecost, Christian Practices, and the Neighbor (Orbis Books, 2008). He and his wife, Alma, currently reside with their three children in Chesapeake, Virginia.