Roman Catholics and Pentecostals in Dialogue

By Hollenweger, Walter J. | The Ecumenical Review, April 1999 | Go to article overview
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Roman Catholics and Pentecostals in Dialogue

Hollenweger, Walter J., The Ecumenical Review

The beginnings

Generally speaking, neither the secular nor the religious press seems to have spotted the significance of one of the most important events in the religious scene of our century: the official Roman Catholic-Pentecostal dialogue, which began in 1972 and is still in progress.(1) One reason for this silence may be the reluctance of the Pentecostal participants in this dialogue to talk about it; indeed, they have sometimes asked that their identity not be disclosed. The US Assemblies of God put a spanner in the works wherever they could and discouraged its own executive members from participation.

Jerry Sandidge attributes this to the involvement of David Du Plessis, who was "still an embarrassment" to the Assemblies of God.(2) As a result, says Sandidge, "the Pentecostal team entered the 1977 session and the second quinquennium series (1977-1982) with very little support from the leaders of the major classical denominations".(3) Du Plessis tried unsuccessfully to put the dialogue on the agenda of-the World Pentecostal Conference, in whose founding he had played a leading role.(4) The WPC advisory committee counselled its members not to participate in the dialogue.(5)

Nevertheless, the Vatican-Pentecostal dialogue took place. Its reports and a number of very scholarly analyses of them are available in print.(6) The time has come for the story to be told more widely. Things are changing so quickly in the Pentecostal camp that editors of periodicals and the authors of lexicon articles will have to work extra hard to keep abreast of events.

One of the most courageous Pentecostal ecumenists, theologian Cecil M. Robeck, himself a member of the Assemblies of God, has written:

   Not to carry reports of the international Roman Catholic-Pentecostal
   dialogue in Pentecostal periodicals may be good Pentecostal politics. But
   the question needs to be asked whether it helps or hinders the kingdom of
   God. Pentecostals and Roman Catholics owe it to themselves to learn as much
   as they can about one another, since they both claim to be part of the same
   Body of Christ. Pentecostals have hardly begun to realize the enormity of
   change that has taken place among Roman Catholics since Vatican II. For
   Pentecostals to continue to respond to Roman Catholics with descriptions
   based upon time-worn stereotypes or ungracious over-generalizations is to
   insist upon the continued presence of specks in Roman Catholic eyes without
   due consideration to the logs in Pentecostal eyes. To withhold information
   which might help to remove both specks and logs is to participate in the
   perpetuation of misunderstanding.(7)

There is an even more intriguing question. Pentecostals may have political reasons to be silent on the Vatican-Pentecostal dialogue. But why is there little or no information on this important issue in the secular or non-Pentecostal religious press? Why among the flood of banality and triviality presented as news is there so little about a fundamental development such as this? The only reason I can imagine is lethargy.

An overview of reports and analyses

The participants in this dialogue have come from a broad spectrum of Catholic scholars and charismatic and Pentecostal leaders (although only a sprinkling from the third world). The resulting talks represent the only dialogue undertaken by the Roman Catholic Church with an unofficial movement largely represented by the personal friends of one catalytic leader - David Du Plessis.(8) In a sense this early stage closely resembles the beginning of the World Council of Churches: W.A. Visser 't Hooft once told me that the WCC was originally a group of friends ("an old-boys' network") who decided to do something about the disunity of the churches. That is why the official documents do not tell the whole story. What happened between the sessions - over the meals, at worship services, in personal conversations - was probably more important for the change of climate than the official proceedings.

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