Pentecostalism is one of the fastest-growing Christian movements in our world today, especially in the global South. Some Christians in the West admire this growth. Most of them witness the decline of organized Christianity in their own countries, while Pentecostalism attracts millions of people in the global South. As I have been observing, Western Christians often romanticize the growing Pentecostalism in the South!
As a full-time Pentecostal (Non-Western) pastor and a sociologist I have several reasons to be concerned about the current condition of Pentecostalism in the South:
There is an emerging radicalism among the Pentecostals in the South. This radicalism does more harm than good, especially in the Non-Western World. Radicalism that is proclaimed from the pulpits of the fundamentalist Pentecostals offers no room for dialogue and communication with those who are different. Such Pentecostals do not easily accept peoples from other Christian denominations let alone those from other faiths.
Therefore, I am extremely worried about the upcoming religious wars in the South. Pentecostals in the South often humiliate or despise publicly those from other religions. For example, the unwise statements about Islam expressed by some prominent Non-Western Pentecostal leaders, result in violent reactions by radical Muslims. I am afraid to suggest that in some parts of Africa and Asia, religious wars and genocides are going to increase which may even result in remapping of some countries.
I am also concerned about the rise of witch-hunting in the Non-Western World, especially Africa. Like never before untrained Pentecostal pastors are suggesting that the poverty and suffering in one’s family is due to the fact that there are some witches in the family. These days, children are being accused of being witches. Witch-hunting against innocent children results in serious injury and molestation of children, women, and the innocent! In fact, Pentecostalism that is rising in the South can be compared with the Roman Catholicism of a few centuries ago in Western Europe. Just like Roman Catholicism of the middle ages, Pentecostalism is being preoccupied with accusing others of being witches and hunts them sometimes even to death. I recommend some documentary about witch-hunting of innocent children. In the documentary: Return to Africa’s Witch Children it is mentioned that such actions are supported by some of the Pentecostal pastors (See the link below).
Further, Pentecostalism has become a business for some preachers to make wealth and fame, while people in their communities don’t even have enough to sustain their own lives. There are conferences where people are manipulated to give a certain amount of money and in return, they will get back hundredfold the amount of the money they have “sown” into the ministry. Yet, these givers are still poor, people are still suffering and struggling to survive.
I do believe that the change must come from within us. We have to genuinely return to the essence of the Holy Spirit, which is love. We as Pentecostals often promote miracles, signs and wonders yet we forget that the greatest miracle is Christ’s unconditional love through His Spirit. Signs and wonders are less important when we forget how to simply love. Speaking in tongues is less essential when we don’t even know how to simply communicate with others in the language of love. Being a supernatural Christian is less important when we don’t even know how to simply be a human being. Pentecost to me is about love incarnated in us through the Holy Spirit and I do hope and I do pray that change will come within us before a worldly reporter starts exposing our inhumanities while we have always have promoted supernaturalism.
Christ taught us to pray in spirit and in truth. These two have to be in balance! We can’t simply “hide” behind the Spirit and keep ignoring the truth. The truth is that we as Pentecostals are not the only ones representing the Holy Spirit. There are hundreds of other Christ-loving and Christ serving believers and denominations that are doing the works of the Holy Spirit. They may not pray in tongues as some of us do, but they know how to allow the Holy Spirit to express through them the fruits of life.
The truth is that we as Pentecostals do not live on an island by ourselves; we are surrounded by those who are different than us. They do not view the world the way we do and not live the way we live! But they are here with us now! The fact is that we have to coexist and learn to co-habit, for we can do all things through him who strengthens us (Philippians 4:13). Instead of only promoting speaking of tongues in our churches, let us seek the Holy Spirit to teach us how to treat others on the human level. Let us plea the Holy Spirit for wisdom in how and what to speak in order to promote peace and justice in our dying world, without losing our Christian and Pentecostal identity. May the Holy Spirit convince us that dialogue is better than argument and love covers all, even the differences!
Let us ask the Holy Spirit to give us the eyes to see the reality of our world: the rise of wars and genocides, the growing gap between the poor and the rich, gender inequality, racism, increasing diseases in various parts of the world where Pentecostalism is growing. May the God of Pentecost give us the wisdom the knowledge and the tools to become messengers of light in our communities.
As Pentecostals who hunger for peace and justice, let us join hands, and once again occupy Pentecostalism. Let us free Pentecostalism from the hands of false teachers, doctrines, and practices. Let us occupy Pentecostalism and free it from self-enriching prophets of doom and gloom! Let us occupy Pentecostalism and free this beautiful movement from the hands of those who have highjacked its values and believes. Let us occupy and be occupied by the Holy Spirit!
Return to Africa’s Witch Children: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SbGzFN_NalI
For those who have not read my book A New Kind of Pentecostalism please feel free to see the following link
Short bio: Dr. Samuel Lee is a Pentecostal pastor and theologian, working among the migrants in the Netherlands. He is the president of Foundation Academy of Amsterdam www.foundation.eu.com and the director of the Center for Theology of Migration in Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam at the Faculty of Religion and Theology.
He was awarded the “Theoloog des Vaderlands” Theologian of the Year in the Netherlands (2020) as he currently carries this title. It is the first time that a Pentecostal from a migrant background with this title.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article belong to the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the South African Theological Seminary.