Nairobi, 9 November (ENI)–Evangelical, Pentecostal and Charismatic leaders attending a world Christian forum in Kenya that has brought together many of Christianity’s diverse strands, say it offers new opportunities, but they also warn of possible difficulties ahead.
‘When you share your journey and discover how others people have travelled and find similarities in the journey, that helps you to travel together,’ commented the Rev. Richard Howell of the Evangelical Fellowship of India.
About 240 leaders from Protestant, Anglican, Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Evangelical, Pentecostal and other churches and international organizations attended the forum in Limuru near Nairobi.
Organizers say the gathering aimed to bring together the various streams of Christianity that have traditionally not been ‘in conversation’ with each other.
The World Council of Churches groups many of the world’s Anglican, Protestant and Orthodox denominations but the Roman Catholic Church does not belong to the Geneva-based WCC, nor do many Evangelical, Pentecostal or Charismatic churches.
In many parts of the world, Pentecostal and so-called non-mainline Protestant churches are growing, while mainstream churches continue to lose membership.
‘A new form of ecumenism is needed that is able to embrace the challenges of world-wide Christianity,’ Pentecostal theologian and scholar Cheryl Bridges-Johns said in an 8 November address to participants.
She added that, ‘the old ‘mainstream’ ecumenical paradigm’ was dying and the structures built to create and sustain the visible unity of the church were no longer viable.
‘The achievement of unity will involve nothing less than a death and rebirth of many forms of church life as we have known them,’ Bridges-Johns said.
David R. Wells of the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada said he welcomed the opportunities the forum offered to bring Christians of different traditions into contact with each other.
Still, he cautioned in an interview with Ecumenical News International, ‘When we get into the areas of real serious disagreement, we will have to see how one another respond to the willingness to agree to disagree.’
And Pentecostal leader the Rev. Peter Sleebos of the Assemblies of God in the Netherlands warned about the use of the term ‘ecumenism’, a word that has described the central task of the World Council of Churches since its foundation in 1948.
‘Almost all our constituencies at home are very allergic to that word,’ he told participants on 8 November. ‘Forum, dialogue or ‘exploring for unity’ is easy to explain.’
Leaders at the Kenya event said they want to continue the global forum as an open space where Christians from different traditions are able to work together in areas of common interest, and undertake individual actions when they differ.
WCC general secretary the Rev. Samuel Kobia welcomed the involvement of Pentecostal and Evangelical leaders in the forum, and said it had helped to overcome prejudices that existed.
In the past, Kobia suggested, Evangelicals had been wary of what has been called the ‘social gospel’, or the kind of commitment to changing society with which the WCC has often been identified.
In recent years, however, Pentecostals and Evangelicals had become increasingly active in campaigns such as those warning of the dangers of climate change, Kobia noted.
‘It is time for Pentecostal and Evangelicals to clarify where they stand on issues of social engagement,’ the WCC leader told journalists at the gathering.
The Rev. Ndaba Mazabane, a South African cleric who is chairperson of the World Evangelical Alliance, welcomed the Global Christian Forum.
‘My idea of coming here is to start to deliberate on issues that are more common to us than are those that divide us,’ he said. ‘It is the beginning, but I don’t know where this journey is going to take us.’ [624 words]
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