The World Council of Churches' Relationships with Pentecostalism: A Brief Historical Survey and Some Recent Perspectives on Membership Matters

By Buda, Daniel | International Review of Mission, June 2018 | Go to article overview

The World Council of Churches' Relationships with Pentecostalism: A Brief Historical Survey and Some Recent Perspectives on Membership Matters


Buda, Daniel, International Review of Mission


Introduction and Problem

Pentecostalism requires special attention from anyone interested in World Christianity, even for the simple fact that it became the largest Christian tradition after Catholicism and, according to some statistics, is the fastest-growing group within Christianity. This means, therefore, that the role and influence of Pentecostalism within global Christianity will grow in the coming decades. In the last few decades, the World Council of Churches (WCC), as a global ecumenical fellowship of member churches that claims to play a leading role in the ecumenical movement, has given appropriate attention to Pentecostalism, which became a global movement especially in the decades after the WCC's own foundation and development. After a period during which the WCC ignored Pentecostalism, the council has accepted some Pentecostal churches as WCC members.

This article will briefly present the history of the relationship between the WCC and the Pentecostal movement. Before this, however, I will address another question: Why does this problem even exist within the WCC? Is it not possible to simply apply WCC's rules and regulations around accepting new member churches to Pentecostal churches? Therefore, I will present and explain some of the prejudices that exist among historical churches with regard to Pentecostals. The third part of this article will present in detail the last debate, which took place in the Permanent Committee on Consensus and Collaboration (PCCC) between 2012 and 2014, on the question "Do we open the gates of the WCC to Pentecostal churches?" Finally, the last part of the article offers a few thoughts on possible future perspectives regarding the relationship between the WCC and Pentecostal churches.

Some Prejudices regarding Pentecostals in the Ecumenical Movement

Proselytism remains one of the main issues that hinders normal ecumenical relationships between Pentecostal churches and the WCC and its member churches. Especially, but not exclusively, the Orthodox churches keep complaining that Pentecostal groups practise a wild proselytism among their own believers. After the fall of the Iron Curtain, former communist countries were perceived by Pentecostal and evangelical groups as terra misiones. In many cases, they had the mistaken idea that people in former communist countries were no longer Christians after decades of aggressive communist-atheist ideology. Such "missionaries" tried to take advantage of the vulnerable economic situation of people living in the early years of post-communism by offering different material goods or other advantages (e.g., visas for the US or other countries; scholarships, working positions abroad) as stimulation for conversion. Nowadays, we hear similar reports of such "missionary" behaviour in the Middle East: of those taking advantage of the terrible situation of Christian people in the region. Visas for certain countries or a chance to escape the region are granted instead of conversion. The vulnerability of diaspora Orthodox--for example, their lack of parishes or other organized forms of pastoral or spiritual care--is also exploited.

The Orthodox also complain that the way some Pentecostals make mission is very much anti-Orthodox. Such missionaries preach that Orthodoxy is simply a strange mixture of dubious traditions and superstitions with some biblical principles, or that it is, in fact, a hidden form of paganism, a confession for the ignorant and not genuine Christianity. They say that only Pentecostalism, and no other Christian confession, possesses the truth and provides a secure path to Jesus Christ's salvation. Often the raison d'etre of Pentecostal communities founded in majority Orthodox countries is to contest Orthodox doctrine and values that are in fact part of the Pentecostal values in other parts of the world. For instance, while Pentecostals in North America use the cross as a specific Christian symbol, some in Eastern Europe portray the cross as an idol. …

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