Academic journal article International Review of Mission

Toward Common Ground: Catholicism and Pentecostalism in African Christianity

Academic journal article International Review of Mission

Toward Common Ground: Catholicism and Pentecostalism in African Christianity

Article excerpt

The Second Vatican Council was the most significant religious event of the 20th century in the judgment of historians, theologians, and others outside religious circles. (1) It affected not only the Roman Catholic Church but all Christians and non-Christians as well. It involved the Church in matters of war and peace, of social justice and poverty, in the economic and political orders, and recognized the growing interdependence and cultural diversity in the world. It introduced and enabled changes within the church in liturgy, prayer, spirituality, ministry, and religious life. It proposed positive engagement with the world outside the Church, a reversal of the Church's defensive and sometimes condemnatory stance in the 19th and early 20th centuries. (2) Indeed, we are still in the process of absorbing and appropriating these amazing initiatives.

Many of these initiatives were highly debated during the council and continue to be contentious in the Church today. One such initiative is religious pluralism, which has become so much a part of the world in which the Catholic Church as an ecclesial community lives. Of course, the Second Vatican Council was in large part a response to contemporary challenges; the Protestant Reformation as well as the problem raised by the Enlightenment's understanding of reason in the 18th century, questioning the validity of a particular, historically mediated revelation, available only to some people being the medium of salvation for all people; the problem raised by historical consciousness and pluralism in the 19th century, questioning the definitive applicability of the claims of Christianity as being the definitive revelation when other traditions, too, laid claims to revelation. Drawing the Second Vatican Council's deep appreciation for religious pluralism, particularly in Lumen Gentium 15 and Unitatis Redintegratio 3, this paper argues that a careful reading of the Vatican Council documents acknowledges the possibility of genuine revelation in other Christian traditions, like Pentecostal/Charismatic Christianity.

Interestingly, Pope Francis recently sent a video message to a gathering of US Pentecostal leaders held in Fort Worth, Texas, voicing his "yearning" that separation between Catholics and other Christians may end. "We have a lot of cultural riches and religious riches. And we have diverse traditions," he said. "But we have to encounter one another as brothers." (3) While admitting that Pentecostal/Charismatic Christianity proposes solutions that are sometimes too simple and short-term--like instant healing, deliverance from forces of evil, and material prosperity for complex questions of human existence, as well as the fact that often in Pentecostal/Charismatic circles, there is an emphasis on the role of the Spirit and charismatic gifts that tend to portray their members as being supernaturally led in an interior way, over and above other Christians who are "not charismatic"--it has nevertheless brought an awakening and a dynamic of new life to Christianity in our time. Although the hierarchy of the Catholic Church in Africa has often stressed the risks of going astray for Catholics, deriving from some tendencies of some Pentecostals/charismatics, it is undeniable that Pentecostal/charismatic spirituality has become a major component of the religious scene in Africa, impacting also on the Catholic Church in the last four decades. (4) This paper briefly explores Pentecostal/charismatic religious phenomenon: its ecumenical pilgrimage, especially with the Catholic Church in Africa. It will argue for the need to manage the inevitable tension between freedom in the Spirit and the constraints of the institution, and propose possible lessons the Catholic Church in Africa can draw from Pentecostal/charismatic spirituality as a response to the new evangelization, where the African Christian can find enough strength and resources of faith to deal with the multiple crises afflicting the continent. …

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