Academic journal article International Review of Mission

Healing, Salvation and Mission: The Ministry of Healing in Latin American Pentecostalism

Academic journal article International Review of Mission

Healing, Salvation and Mission: The Ministry of Healing in Latin American Pentecostalism

Article excerpt

In what follows I shall attempt to formulate theologically some aspects of the ministry of healing in Latin American Pentecostalism and outline their implications for mission. I shall do so under four headings: l) Healing and salvation in the context of Pentecostal faith; 2) Healing and salvation in Pentecostal biblical and existential hermeneutics; 3) The missiological dimension of the ministry of healing in Pentecostalism; and 4) Elements of a Pentecostal theological approach to healing/salvation/mission.

I. Healing and salvation in the context of Pentecostal faith

Pentecostal movements have grown most and had the most significant impact in the poor regions of the world. Pentecostalism's ability to interact with the context enables it to respond to a situation marked by sickness and exclusion by offering healing and inclusion. The changes of religious emphasis in Pentecostalism therefore have to be understood in the light of the changing living conditions in Latin American societies. The impoverishment affecting all areas of life, that has reached dramatic proportions since the 1990s, is a very important factor when it comes to understanding the renewed emphasis on healing practices in Pentecostalism. This has taken the place of speaking in tongues in almost all Pentecostal traditions and even rivals the ministry of "renewal of praise and adoration" in others. This emphasis on healing, together with the message of the "theology of prosperity", also partly explains the success of some groups which are incorrectly referred to as neo-Pentecostal.

The underdeveloped capitalism that characterizes most Latin American economies is a system that produces poverty and exclusion of one kind or another. (1) One of the areas where the effects of such exclusion are most disastrous is health care. For large sections of the population in Latin America (and in the world), falling sick can become a desperate problem affecting the very basis of their existence and all areas of life, including religious faith. These people generally do not have access to state and private health care systems so that, apart from folk medicine, they have to depend on divine providence to restore them to health. Pentecostals, most of whom come from the most deprived groups in society, are also directly affected by this state of affairs. But their belief that God is a "healing God" gives them a special kind of strength and a different perception of sickness and health. The socio-economic background of Latin America and the particular Pentecostal religious experience are, to my mind, two key factors in any theological analysis of the topic of healing/salvation/mission from a Pentecostal perspective.

One distinguishing feature of Pentecostal piety is that it is always very much part of the daily lives of individuals and communities, and is always functionally related to them. Pentecostals perceive sickness as a direct attack on their condition as children of God. They almost always give a religious dimension to any experience of sickness and healing. Their belief that God cares for all aspects of their lives causes them to look for the divine presence and divine reasons even in cases of sickness. And because of that they also possess great reserves of hope and trust that some good will come of it all the same. "We know that all things work together for good for those who love God" (Rom. 8:28) is a text often quoted with conviction in such circumstances. At the consultation on "Healing, Salvation and Mission" held by the World Council of Churches (WCC) and the Latin American Council of Churches (CLAI) in Santiago de Chile in October 2003, it was clear that Pentecostalism understands sickness in a broad sense, including among its pathologies and manifestations social upheavals, the destruction of nature and situations that may exist within communities, not excluding the possibility of emotional or spiritual illness in pastors and their families, and the existence of traumas resulting from history, for example. …

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