Pentecostal leader greets world Christian gathering as a new beginning

By Ecumenical News International
November 8, 2007

A prominent Pentecostal leader has hailed a world gathering that has been described as bringing together the broadest range of Christian traditions ever assembled at a global meeting - writes Fredrick Nzwili.

"I am stunned. We have here what might be described as a new Pentecost," the Rev Cecil (Mel) Robeck, an Assemblies of God minister from the United States, told about 240 Christian leaders attending the 6-9 November 2007 gathering near Nairobi called the Global Christian Forum.

The leaders come from Protestant, Anglican, Orthodox, Catholic, Evangelical, Pentecostal and other churches from around the world.

Robeck, a professor at Fuller Theological Seminary in California, is an expert in global Pentecostalism, a Christian renewal movement dating from the early 20th century.

Pentecostalism takes its name from Pentecost, the Christian festival that commemorates the descent of the Holy Spirit on the followers of Jesus, allowing them to understand each other although they did not speak the same language.

It is now seen as one of the fastest growing Christian movements in the world, particularly in the Southern hemisphere. In the past, however, many Pentecostals have not been part of the organized movement for Christian unity symbolised by the Geneva-based World Council of Churches.

The Kenya forum aims to include all streams of Christianity, including those which have not been "in conversation" with one another, the WCC said.

"Some would have said that this event was not possible, but here we are," said WCC general secretary the Rev. Samuel Kobia, addressing forum participants on 6 November.

The forum idea was originally proposed in the mid-1990s by the Rev. Konrad Raiser, a German theologian who was then WCC general secretary.

He said it could reach out to Roman Catholic, Pentecostal and Evangelical churches that do not belong to the Geneva-based grouping, whose 347 member churches are drawn predominantly from Protestant, Anglican and Orthodox traditions.

"It is only by lowering barriers, by coming fully into each other's presence and confronting our prejudices, that we may come to understand each other significantly better," said Kobia, a Methodist from Kenya.

In a personal testimony, Kobia recounted how his parents were first-generation Christians, converted in revivals that swept Kenya and neighbouring nations during the colonial era. His father eventually became a charismatic street preacher and decided to leave a piece of the family's land for the building of an Assemblies of God church.

"I hope that we will take the risk of working together ... and praying for the growth that is God's gift," said Kobia.

A message from the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, described the forum meeting as significant and timely. "The call to unity and common witness requires us to develop new conversations as well as to build on the fellowship we already enjoy," he wrote.

Guirguis Ibrahim Saleh, the general secretary of the Middle East Council of Churches, in greetings to the forum, said it was vital that Christians in his region revitalised their own cultural role that has characterised their modern history.

"It is no exaggeration to say that Christians of the Middle East are indispensable to a democratic and pluralistic Arab world," said Saleh. "Their presence is as important to the outside world as to their own."

[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches.]

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