Assemble a few thousand Pentecostals together and you can expect much worship and preaching. Empowered21 (E21), a global network of Pentecostals and Charismatics, held EveryOne, a global event in Amsterdam in June, advertised as “Four days in Amsterdam to launch a new era of evangelism. All with one audacious goal: take the new of Jesus to every person on earth.” *
To the 5,000 gathered at the Amsterdam RAI Center and Olympic Stadium, this event, open to whoever chose to attend, was less about Pentecostal/Charismatic leaders or denominations and more about being active in evangelism, with the apt and frequent reminder that only Spirit-empowerment can make it work.
Because Pentecostals and their many offshoots have been around for over a century, one might miss the role they have played and continue to play in the renewing and growth of the church. Looking back, one may be surprised to realize that at the beginning of the 20th century, the Spirit seemed caught in the shadows of the Father and Son. He was known about, of course, and included in church documents, prayers, and creeds, but our church theology had little to say about his person, presence, and gifting. Occasionally there were outbursts of Spirit encounters, and the 1800s saw an increasing number of testimonies to the manifest activity of the Spirit in communities and the lives of individuals. However, for many the Spirit was mysterious, a mere shadow of the Trinity. As theologian Emil Bruner noted, “The Holy Spirit has always been more or less the stepchild of theology and the dynamism of the Spirit a bugbear for theologians.”
The 1906 Azusa Street Revival in Los Angeles changed that situation remarkably. That event and others set off a global movement of Spirit activity, along with the occasional heretical spinoff.
The Pentecostal movement was opposed by much of the Protestant world and held at arm’s length by Roman Catholics for more than 50 years. It is thus hilariously remarkable that the Spirit eventually engaged Episcopal (Anglican) and Catholic leaders in the United States, giving them a deeper understanding of Spirit-empowerment through their willingness to learn from Pentecostals. This experience helped to bridge the divide between Pentecostalism and the established denominations, leading to what we came to call the Charismatic Movement. (Charisma is Greek for gift or favor.)
The sweep of the Spirit in these past few decades defied post–World War II expectations as to what the church would become. Today, some estimate that the Pentecostal/Charismatic community itself encompasses up to two-thirds of a billion Christians, with much variation in styles of worship and social engagement: from classic liturgy to gospel rock and roll, from old-fashioned revival meetings to caring for the poor, from intense political affiliation to pounding the pavement for justice. Hierarchies have been flattened. The gifts of the Spirit, we now realize, have not ceased but have been given freely so the people of God, filled with energy and his presence, can make Jesus known to all the world’s cultures. Women, affirmed in their biblical calling, exercise their talents and gifts to strengthen the church. The miraculous has been brought back to Main Street. Laity need no permission from their priest or pastor to activate Spirit-distributed gifts. The Trinity, without any of its members in the shadows, interfaces with the people of God in ways that often, in earlier times, seemed to be reserved for the mysterious and the isolated.
Forty years ago, I sat in the same RAI Center attending Billy Graham’s conference for evangelists. This was nine years after Graham had hosted the historic Lausanne Congress of 1974—in my view, the most critical event of the 20th century for Evangelicals. Concerned that evangelism might get pushed to the side by increased attention to humans’ physical, social and economic needs, Graham brought together thousands of evangelists from around the world at Amsterdam in summer 1983. Now, forty years later, as I listened and watched, I mused that if he had been here for EveryOne, we’d have seen a smile from him as he observed this unabated passion for making Jesus known to the world.
A bit curious, but in the end fitting, was the presence of Rick Warren, recently retired as pastor of the renowned Saddleback megachurch in California. Warren is a Southern Baptist, and the theology of his denomination has historically been in opposition to the glossolalia emphasis of Pentecostals. Speaking in tongues was argued to be out of date, as such “evidence” of the Spirit’s power had allegedly ceased in the early centuries of the church. Yet here Warren was, celebrated and powerfully influential in helping to emphasize the purpose and setting of the conference.
Referencing the “finish the task” slogan common in contemporary missions, EveryOne framed Christ’s call to make disciples within the coming decade, pointing out that the year 2033 represents two millennia since the earthly ministry of Jesus. Although this date is only symbolic, it has been appropriated as a strategy to focus on Christ’s call to be his witnesses now, drawing together Christians of all stripes, who are too often sidelined by divisions of cultural and political factions.
Featuring a wide representation of regional speakers, the general sessions, along with multiple workshops, all linked into the theme of “finishing the task.” The many speakers and workshop leaders included Nicky Gumbel, founder of Alpha; Sara Guerra, pastor in Colombia; Ed Stetzer of the USA; Markus Wenz from Germany; Goodwill Shana, from Zimbabwe and chair of the World Evangelical Alliance’s International Council; Rob Hoskins of OneHope; Samuel Rodriguez, head of the Hispanic Leadership Conference; and Billy Wilson, chair of E21 and president of Oral Roberts University.
In reading the vision of E21—“That every person on Earth would have an authentic encounter with Jesus Christ through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit … by Pentecost 2033”—one is impressed that Pentecostals were willing to bring in people from outside their ranks to highlight the centrality of this task. This decision reinforces how the centripetal force of Jesus quite naturally generates unity among his followers.
Brian C. Stiller
The World Evangelical Alliance
* Pentecostals and Charismatics globally have three worldwide networks. The Pentecostal World Fellowship (PWF) participates in global intra-Christian discussions and hosts a triennial world conference of “Spirit-filled” Christians. The World Assemblies of God Fellowship (WAGF) is a network of Assemblies of God (AOG) and Pentecostal denominations. Empowered21 (E21), a more recently established group, brings together Pentecostals and Charismatics “to unite the global Spirit-filled movement together intergenerationally for the purpose of seeing a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the 21st century.” Both PWF and E21 are managed out of Oral Roberts University; the WAGF is based at AOG headquarters in Springfield, Missouri.
Author: Brian Stiller