First Meeting of the International Lutheran-Pentecostal Dialogue

In September the very first gathering of the new International Lutheran-Pentecostal dialogue took place at Asia Pacific Theological Seminary in Baguio City in the Philippines, with the Institute’s adjunct professor Sarah Hinlicky Wilson, author of A Guide to Pentecostal Movements for Lutherans, serving as consultant.

Although this was the first formal meeting, the dialogue has been a long time in preparation. Already in the 1970s there was interest in the Lutheran World Federation to understand better the rapid growth of all kinds of Pentecostal movements around the world as well as the rise of Charismatic movements within Lutheran churches. Initially, however, these conversations were largely internal to the Lutheran family, rather than being in a situation of exchange and encounter with Pentecostal Christians.

Early in the new millennium, the Institute’s adjunct professor Kenneth Appold reached out to Cecil M. Robeck Jr., a prominent Pentecostal ecumenist, to inquire whether dialogue between Lutherans and Pentecostals might be possible. That led to the six-year process of “proto-dialogue” between Lutherans, represented by the Institute’s staff and invited guests, and members of trinitarian Classical Pentecostal denominations. The result was the handbook Lutherans and Pentecostals in Dialogue, released in 2010.

Now, six years later, at the warm encouragement of the LWF Council, a formal dialogue has been established to take place over the next five years, organized around Luke 4:18–19: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” In this first year, the two teams attended to the words, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,” as both communities understand themselves to be called by the Spirit into fellowship with God and to undertake the Spirit’s mission in the world. This already establishes common ground between them. A good portion of the discussion was devoted to self-description of each church community and tradition to the other, with lively questions and observations exchanged.

An essential aspect of this encounter was attending worship on Sunday. The dialogue visited first an Assemblies of God service and then one of the Lutheran Church in the Philippines—both, interestingly, conducted in English, since this is the common language of the Philippines amidst the many indigenous languages. The dialogue also paid a visit to the Lutheran seminary in Baguio, and several days later received a delegation of Filipino Lutheran and Pentecostal pastors, most of whom were meeting each other for the first time and only because of the dialogue meeting. This strongly reinforced the sentiment in the dialogue that international work must also have a regional and local effect. The dialogue is committed to fostering these encounters in the years to come.

The next meeting will take place in September 2017 in Wittenberg, Germany, in recognition of the jubilee year of the Reformation. Drawing on the words  “he has anointed me to proclaim” from Luke 4:18, it will focus on proclamation, evangelism, and mission. The Latin America gathering in 2018 will turn to “good news to the poor” while the Africa meeting in 2019 will focus on “freedom, recovery and release.” The final meeting of this round in 2020 will take place in North America to draft a statement based on the previous years’ work and make recommendations for Lutheran-Pentecostal fellowship.

Dr. Jean-Daniel Plüss, a Swiss Pentecostal historian and theologian, is continuing in his role from the proto-dialogue as Co-Chair of this dialogue. The Lutheran team welcomes the well-known Brazilian theologian Walter Altmann, author of Luther and Liberation, as the other Co-Chair.

The other Lutheran participants at the Baguio meeting were Rev. Tamás Gáncs from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Hungary, Rev. Dr. Wilfred J. Samuel from the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Malaysia, Rev. Dr. Cheryl Peterson from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and the Rev. Johannes Zeiler from the Church of Sweden. Rev. Dr. Amos Buntausa of the Lutheran Church of Christ in Nigeria was unable to attend. Rev. Dr. Kaisamari Hintikka represented the LWF in her capacity as Assistant General Secretary for Ecumenical Relations.

The Pentecostal team was represented by the aforementioned Rev. Dr. Cecil M. Robeck Jr. of the Assemblies of God in the USA; Rev. Dr. Teresa Chai of the Assemblies of God in Malaysia, Rev. Gani Wiyono of the Assemblies of God in Indonesia, Dr. Olga Zaprometova of the Church of God in Russia, Rev. Dr. Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen serving as consultant, and Rev. Tham Wan Yee of the Assemblies of God in Malaysia, who, as President of Asia Pacific Theological Seminary in Baguio, also served as host for the meeting. Rev. Dr. Edmund Rybarczyk of the Assemblies of God in the U.S. and Dr. Nico Horn of the Apostolic Faith Mission in Namibia were unable to attend.