February 19, 2011

Orthodox Christianity and the Growth of Pentecostalism

Pentecostalism Is Changing the Global Face of Christianity

Stephen Brown
February 18, 2011

The “phenomenal growth” of Pentecostalism is changing the worldwide landscape of Christianity but is also putting global disparities into sharp relief, a World Council of Churches' meeting in Geneva has been told.

As it sweeps through the global South and related diaspora communities in the global North, Pentecostalism is developing “amongst people who are disproportionately impoverished, imprisoned, infirmed and enslaved”, said the Rev Jennifer S. Leath, an ordained pastor of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, USA.

Yet at the same time, “We know there is a socio-economic trail that often leads back to predominantly white, moneyed interests in the North,” noted Leath in a 17 February 2011 presentation to the WCC’s main governing body, its central committee.

Pentecostalism - a movement characterised by ecstatic, rapturous worship that emerged at the beginning of the 20th century - has been described as the world’s fastest-growing faith.

Estimates suggest there are now between 250 and 500 million Pentecostals worldwide, many of them in the southern hemisphere.

“There are theologies of wealth and wealthy Pentecostals who subscribe to those theologies – yes, in both the North and the South, but disproportionately in the North,” said Leath, researching a doctorate in religious ethics and African American studies at Yale University.

The WCC’s 349 members are largely historic Anglican, Orthodox or Protestant churches, representing about half a billion faithful. Though it includes some Pentecostal churches, most of Pentecostalism remains outside the WCC.

Read the rest here.

Gerald R. McDermott writes in The Baker Pocket Guide to World Religions: What Every Christian Needs to Know (Baker Books, 2008 ):

Eastern Orthodoxy and Pentecostalism

Until recently Christianity has been said to be divided into three main groups – Roman Catholicism, Protestantism, and Eastern Orthodoxy. But in the last two decades, with the explosive rise of Pentecostal Christianity in China and the Global South, Pentecostalism is becoming a fourth main branch of the worldwide church.

The Eastern Orthodox comprise 220 million believers in Russia, Serbia, Greece, Poland, Georgia, and other areas of Eastern Europe, under “patriarchs” of Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem. They reject the authority of the Pope at Rome, look to the Seven “Ecumenical” Councils (from AD 375 to 787) and Greek Church Fathers for teaching, reject the Roman filioque in the Nicene Creed (the Spirit proceeded “also from the Son,” as well as from the Father), have married priests but only celibate bishops, and revere icons. Icons are paintings of Christ, his apostles, and the saints that are painted by artisans trained both spiritually and artistically, and are regarded by Orthodox as “windows into the divine.”

Pentecostalism represents the fastest growing religious group in the world at six hundred million believers. It is the largest variety of Christianity in China and may comprise the world’s largest national church (eighty to one hundred million). It is so named because of its use of the “Pentecostal gifts” described in I Corinthians 12-14 and the book of Acts: tongues, prophecy, discerning of spirits, healing, and others.

Read also: Pentecostalism and Eastern Orthodoxy: East-West Church and Ministry Report

Fr. Stephen Freeman writes in his blog post titled "The Spirit, the Modern World, Pentecostalism and Orthodoxy" the following:

I am not surprised that American Pentecostalism is growing and forming and shaping many things around it. It is, in many ways, an American experience, well-suited to support the expansion of our dominance of world culture. It has African elements as well (but so does the American experience). But if you would see African Christian spirituality at its roots – then travel to the deserts of Egypt or the monasteries of Ethiopia. There you will find centuries of sober theology, transformed into the lives of true saints.

True theology must finally be grounded in the truth of the living experience of the Church. “We speak of what we know,” as Christ said of the Jews. What Orthodox theology teaches it offers not with the subtle ratiocination of medieval schoolmen nor simply of dry, rationalistic formuations. We worship the true and living God Whom We Know in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit. Miracles have never ceased from our midst.

Read more here.

And for stories of converts who left Pentecostalism for Orthodoxy, read the following stories from the website "Journey To Orthodoxy" here.

Also read: The Orthodox Encounter With the Holy Spirit