Sunday, November 22, 2009

Taste of the Global Church again

by Harvey

On Friday, many of us came together again to taste the fruits of the global church again. This time, it was the Tanzanian church, especially the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Tanzania that we were invited to taste. Faith Lugazia, a finishing PhD student from Tanzania took us through some of the findings of her research on the impact of neo-Pentecostalism on the Lutheran church in Tanzania. She has rightly observes that Pentecostalism, in its many forms, is shaping and reshaping global Christianity, with noticeable results in the non-Western world; South America, Africa and Asia. In Africa, the situation is made even more interesting when we factor in the African Initiated Churches, some of which could be counted among neo-Pentecostals. While neo-Pentecostal membership accounts for almost 25 percent of African Christians, with an even larger base of affiliates and adherents, it should be no surprise that they are indeed influencing the Christian landscape on the continent.

The observations that Faith makes deserve a larger audience. The influence of the neo-Pentecostals that she has studied in Tanzania does not end in Tanzania. Believe you me, there are Tanzanian churches in the Twin Cities, and they too are influenced. Not to mention the many other African Pentecostal Churches in the Twin Cities; Liberian, Kenyan, Ethiopian, etc. As a matter of fact, with over 600 million Pentecostals worldwide, we can comfortably say that on a global scale, one in every four Christians is a Pentecostal. What does this mean? "We cannot keep on ignoring them anymore. We must engage with them. While we recognize the loopholes in Pentecostal theology, (and they recognize the loopholes in other theologies: every theology has a blind spot), demonizing them deprives us of some learning opportunities." Yes, Faith is delighted that these opportunities of teachable moments are bearing much fruits in Tanzania. Intentional conversations are beginning to take place between mainline theologians and the neo-Pentecostals.

As such, Faith’s research, and others that follow provide us with tools to combat the fear that screams “The Pentecostals are upon us!” (Every time I hear that, I wish I could say, “It is the Spirit, stupid.” But you know, I cannot. I am a seminarian). Respectful engagement is the beginning of understanding the "other." I guess that is what Martin Luther would do if he lived in Tanzania in the 21st century. As an African charismatic and scholar myself, I actually think, the sooner you engage the African Pentecostals, the better. The problem (or blessing) is that they are no longer limited to Africa alone. They are here in your cities. They may actually go to the churches that you will serve.


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