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Lamin Sanneh | Yale Divinity School
Some of the networks now take on the appearance of new denominations. Some have passed to a second generation of leadership whose organizational ideas and even theologies were quite different from those of the founders. Some of the new churches leave much to be desired——especially those with wealthy leaders whose questionable and exploitative and indeed in some cases, criminal practices continue to be debated in public forums. The facts on the ground are much more complex, because there is also a corresponding resistance to homogeneity and westernization. As the social scientists have taught us, Pentecostalism also grows where a pluralistic religious environment is the norm.
But, of course, the principle of social differentiation means that there will always be groups for whom Pentecostalism is an attractive religious option, even in those countries where voluntarism, pluralism, and freedom of association are limited, such as in China today. The Transformation of Christianity and Pentecostalism It is certain that the continuous change and transformation in world Christianity will continue. Pentecostalism in the majority world, as Jenkins has observed of Christianity as a whole, does not represent a global religion with roots in the North, but a new type of Christianity altogether.
But it is not only numbers that are changing. World Christianity is also changing in character, and this has much to do with Pentecostalism. The internationalizing of the Charismatic movement in the s and s began to erode the isolation of independent churches in the global South, but these changes had already been brewing for decades. With new nation-states created out of former colonies came resistance to foreign cultural symbols, including western hegemony in ecclesiastical affairs.
The entire majority 11 Jenkins, New Faces of Christianity, Johnson et al. Complex networks of new churches have mushroomed in recent years, making them probably the largest grouping within Pentecostalism as a whole. The history of Pentecostalism is so littered with revival movements causing schisms, that schism has become its defining feature. Facts and figures on the growth of any global religious movement are notoriously difficult to arrive at, yet statistics on the growth of Pentecostalism are exultingly quoted, especially by those who want to see it all starting in America.
The type of Pentecostalism represented by most of us in this gathering is a small minority when looking at the worldwide picture. When considering what diverse and mutually independent movements are included in the statistics, Pentecostalism can probably never be defined adequately and certainly not according to our western doctrinal formulae. In several countries worldwide, Pentecostalism in all its various forms is not only a significant proportion of Christianity, but a sizeable chunk of the entire population with enormous socio-political clout.
Its adherents are often on the cutting edge of the encounter with people of other faiths, albeit sometimes confrontationally so. These confrontations play out in places like Nigeria and India where other religions form majorities, and this conflict, which has already claimed many lives, is in danger of escalating. Because of its tendency to proselytize, Pentecostalism also finds itself in conflict with other Christians in their traditional 13 Johnson et al. Although the growth of Pentecostalism has reversed in some more developed countries like South Korea and among Anglos in the US, there is no sign that the rate worldwide has slowed down, and in places like sub-Saharan Africa, China, Central America, and India it may still be increasing.
Missiological Factors. Early pentecostals made a theological link between the experience of baptism in the Spirit and mission.
Disciples of All Nations Pillars of World Christianity Oxford Studies in World
Rather than seen as radiating out from an archetypical centre, this must be seen as a series of concentric circles——multiple origins if you will! The constant efforts to expand from the different and ever-changing centres are underpinned by a firm belief in the Bible as an independent source of authority. The personal conversion of individuals is the primary goal of these evangelistic efforts. Indigenization occurs rapidly in Pentecostalism. They quickly identified thousands of local leaders usually from other churches , who took their message much further than they were able to.
These indigenous churches are also often self-contextualizing. The more pentecostals divided, the more they multiplied. Theological Factors. The spiritual world of most societies worldwide is a personal, interrelated and interdependent universe.
The power of the Spirit, a power greater than any other power threatening survival in this world is good news. The pervading, powerful Spirit portrayed by pentecostal preachers gave Christianity a new vibrancy and relevance. Pentecostal churches, like many older ones, are limited by their humanness and often need correction.
But their innovative Christianity takes seriously the popular religious world with its existential needs. Cultural and Social Factors. With its offer of the power of the Spirit to all regardless of education, language, race, class or gender, Pentecostalism has been a movement on a mission to subvert social convention.
Unlike older forms of Christian mission, its methods were not as dependent on western specialists and the transmission of western forms of Christian liturgy and leadership. Pentecostalism in its earliest forms broke down the dichotomy between clergy and laity that was the legacy of older churches. Revival movements challenged western dominance and created a multitude of new indigenous churches——a type of Christianity in local idiom that was both a cultural protest movement and a movement emphasizing power to overcome an evil spirit world and promoting the miraculous.
A major reason for the growth of Pentecostalism has been its ability to adapt itself to different cultures and societies.
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These new, contextualized forms are expressed in energetic and energizing worship and liturgies, in music and dance, in prayer with the free use of the emotions, and in communities of concerned and committed believers. Pentecostals are becoming more socially aware and active in efforts to relieve poverty and disease. The reasons for crowds of people flocking to the new churches may have to do with more than the power of the Spirit, although we should not disregard this important factor. The offer of a better and 17 Donald E.
There are real, this-worldly concerns that it seeks to address, and these concerns have had at least as much impact as the otherworldly ones. There seems to be no stopping the relentless advance of Pentecostalism, in contrast to some other contemporary expressions of Christianity. Pentecostals may sometimes offer a pie-in- the-sky-when-we-die Christianity, but this is only one side of their message. There are real dangers, however, in the promises of instant healing, wholeness and prosperity for all.
The preoccupation with these earthly concerns often comes at the expense of Christian virtues like humility, patience, and peace. The freedom of the Spirit recognized by all pentecostals renders them vulnerable to authoritarian leaders who may exploit their members and cause further division. If Pentecostalism is still the fastest growing religious movement of our time, then what about its long-term future?
Here, it is risky making predictions, as Charles Taylor also reminds us.
Some have suggested that Pentecostalism has now entered this phase and will eventually be overcome by modernity and secularization.