catching some evangelicals off guard, wary

It looked like a worship service in one of Lima’s evangelical churches: lively gospel choruses, the strumming guitar, clapping and spontaneity, and plenty of praises in prayer. But this was a Catholic charismatic prayer group at its Wednesday night meeting in Twelve Apostles Parish.

About 50 people, most of them young, were one week away from completing a 10-week course, “Life in the Spirit.” The final session would give participants the opportunity to pray for the baptism in the Holy Spirit. Rómulo Falcón, the invited speaker for the evening, explained what that next step involved.

“Don’t seek the baptism in the Spirit until you recognize Jesus as your only Lord,” said the priest, dressed casually and sounding like a Billy Graham from the Vatican. “Total surrender to Christ is essential for receiving the power of the Holy Spirit. The tendency of many today is to seek their own salvation, to rise above sin on their own power. But the only Savior is Jesus.”

Afterwards, driving his Volkswagen back across town to his own parish, Falcón shared freely how a 17-year-old involved in the Catholic charismatic renewal led him to Christ and into a personal encounter with the Holy Spirit. He recalled that he was then rector of the seminary in Trujillo, and, as a frustrated product of nine years of advanced theological training, was about to leave the priesthood.

By all indications, Falcón’s testimony is similar to hundreds of others in Peru’s Catholic charismatic renewal. There are a thousand registered Catholic charismatic prayer groups in Peru (“registered” means that each has a trained leader, and that members have completed the “Life in the Spirit” course). At the hub of the movement, in Lima, an estimated 30,000 Catholics in 150 prayer groups identify with the movement.

Some time ago, Juan Landazuri Ricketts, primate of Peru and archbishop of Lima, appointed Falcón as coordinator of the charismatic renewal in Lima (another priest is nationwide coordinator). Concerned about having trained leaders for the growing movement, Falcón a year ago started a school for servidores, or servants, which meets currently in 15 locations around the city. Participants committed themselves to one weekend of Bible and discipleship training per month over three years’ time. Members of “Jesus’ Victory,” an evangelical charismatic group in Orlando, Florida, were flying down to teach in the school at their own expense.

When asked about the Catholic charismatic renewal in Lima, local evangelical leaders did not seem aware of the movement. One reason for this is that the Catholic movement is drawn from the upper classes, while evangelicals substantially come from the lower social strata. Most had never heard of Falcón or that so many people linked themselves to the movement.

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Most of those who have heard about the renewal have greeted the news about as enthusiastically as Ananias greeted word of Saul’s conversion. They recall persecution from priests as recently as the 1960s.

One Lima missionary, possibly representing a majority of the city’s evangelical community, complained that if Catholics really were accepting Christ, they should come out of their church to evangelical Protestantism. He complained of seeing literature showing the so-called Four Spiritual Laws on one side and a message calling for greater devotion to the Virgin Mary on the other.

Lima’s Catholic charismatics are determined to stay with their church, but many say their goal is to renew it. The charismatic renewal already has brought changes to Roman Catholicism, said Falcón. Singing for instance, has entered the worship service. “We never sang before,” he said.

Besides that, he described a greater emphasis on personal Bible study and Christian community. “And the Catholic church is being purified of things that have nothing to do with biblical Christianity: the processions, the images.”

Unlike many Pentecostals, Lima’s charismatics do not emphasize speaking in tongues. They say it is only one of many gifts available to the Spirit-filled Christian.

Sometimes the term “baptism in the Spirit” is used synonymously with personal salvation. At other times it is used to refer to renewed activity of the Spirit in a Christian.

The renewal in Latin American Catholicism is difficult to gauge theologically. This is partly because it is overwhelmingly a lay, rather than a clerical, movement, and therefore doctrinally imprecise. Another reason is that it divides into two streams.

The larger stream is open to Protestant influence and tends to downplay the doctrines of the Roman Catholic church without denying them. It tolerates traditional practices, but quietly deplores them. The smaller stream tends to reinforce the very traditional aspects of Catholic piety and sees manifestations of the Spirit as the subjective appropriation of gifts already objectively given through the church.

The resulting mix makes most of the Catholic hierarchy nervous, because, although it values the vitality of the movement, it perceives that much of it appeals more to Scripture and to the Holy Spirit and less to the authority of the bishops.

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It also puts off Protestant evangelicals, who see that some Catholics become more ardent in their veneration of the Virgin and more regular in confession. They also perceive still-unresolved contradictions between the remaining charismatics’ quite evangelical gut-level theology and their acquiescence to traditional Roman Catholic doctrine at the propositional level.

The charismatic renewal has not only swept into local parishes, but also into Catholic young people’s and businessmen’s circles. When all of Lima’s charismatic Catholic youth meet, from 4,000 to 7,000 turn out.

Concerned to see young converts in the renewal get solid Bible and discipleship training, businessman Jimmy Pestana and his wife, Norma, started a Bible school in their home (no evangelical seminary in the city would accept Catholics as students). Some 125 young men and women took the classes five evenings a week.

Besides being Falcón’s choice to oversee the youth movement, Pestana also leads a growing renewal and evangelistic outreach among the city’s business community. Interestingly, the unintentional catalyst for this movement was Protestant: Allan Shannon, coordinator for government, church, and public relations for the Summer Institute of Linguistics, which is related to Wycliffe Bible Translators.

Two years ago Shannon was attending a charismatic prayer group, which included Pestana and another man, and Shannon saw in both men particular Christian leadership potential. Shannon invited the two to start meeting weekly with him for lunch for discipling, prayer, and Bible study.

Occasionally they would invite unbelieving business acquaintances who, after hearing their friends’ testimonies, would “literally break down and ask, ‘How can I have what you guys have?’ ” recalled Shannon.

Seeing many “unplanned” conversions, Shannon and others decided to hold larger meetings with evangelism in mind. Wednesday night meetings began in a Lima country club, where the men would invite unconverted acquaintances for an informal coffee. The meetings would end with a believer’s personal testimony and an invitation for prayer to accept Christ.

Five or more regularly responded. In the two years since the three men’s first lunch date, an estimated 200 men have made Christian commitments through this outreach.

The charismatic renewal in Lima dates back to 1970, but it really took off in 1979 after the Sixth Catholic Charismatic Encounter in Latin America, better known as ECCLA VI. Some 90 delegates, leaders of the Catholic renewal from 20 countries in the Americas, met for 10 days in Lima. The emphasis was evangelization of Latin America’s 300 million baptized Catholics (about 95 percent of the population). Significantly for the renewal in Peru, at ECCLA VI Cardinal Landazuri pledged his full support for the renewal, calling it “undoubtedly a presence of the Spirit in his church.”

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Shannon says he can understand why evangelicals have been hesitant or unwilling to involve themselves with Catholics: doctrinal differences, memories of Catholic persecution of Protestants, and church leaders and missionaries fearing what their constituencies will think. However, Shannon says he urges evangelical leaders at least to talk to Catholics. “I tell people, ‘Let’s find out what God is doing and get behind it.’ ”

Catholic charismatics are literally begging for Bible teachers. Shannon recalled a conversation with some nuns who teach at an exclusive Catholic girls school in Lima. They asked that Shannon help them locate evangelicals who could teach the Bible in their school. “But not one [evangelical] would touch it!” groaned Shannon, smacking his forehead. “What an opportunity—the chance to teach the Bible to 2,000 girls, the cream of the crop—and we didn’t take advantage of it.”

Shannon currently teaches at the Bible school in Pestana’s home and occupies a behind-the-scenes support role in the Catholic charismatic renewal. Responding to a friend in the U.S. who wondered if Catholics perhaps were “converting” him, Shannon wrote that like the apostle Paul, he only sought to become all things to all men so that some might be saved. “This means if I want to win Catholic priests and nuns to Jesus Christ, I’m going to have to get in with them and show them Christ’s love.”

Some evangelical leaders are disturbed by the restriction against the entrance of additional foreign evangelical missionaries into Peru—only replacements for departing missionaries are admitted.

Pedro Merino, general secretary of the National Evangelical Council of Peru, said immigration officials apparently are honoring the request for such a restriction directly from Cardinal Landazuri. Last month Merino was trying to arrange a meeting with the cardinal to iron out the problem.

The Catholic charismatic renewal’s ultimate impact may well depend on whether it can pair strong biblical foundations and leadership maturity with the rapid growth of the movement. Also, much depends on whether the church hierarchy gives leeway to renewal leaders such as Falcón. Many of the movement’s innovations and practices must certainly appear shocking to the traditionalists.

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Structural renewal of the Catholic church began with Vatican II, said Falcón. But the charismatic renewal is bringing another kind of renewal, “an interior one,” he added. “In the renewal, one accepts Christ as Savior and Lord. Before, the Catholic church didn’t know that experience.”

In the view of this unassuming priest, the result of the charismatic renewal will be nothing less than to “renew the whole Catholic church.”

Howard To Head World Evangelical Fellowship

The World Evangelical Fellowship executive council last month appointed David M. Howard, Sr., as its general secretary. Howard, a former Latin America Mission missionary and missions director for Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship, assumed the post at the beginning of this month.

The previous general secretary, Waldron Scott, resigned 13 months ago, and Wade T. Coggins, the North American member of the executive council and executive director of the Evangelical Foreign Missions Association, had assumed the post’s duties on an interim basis.

The World Evangelical Fellowship (WEF) is a grouping of 44 national associations of churches that was formed in 1951. Its North American components are the National Association of Evangelicals and the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada. It is often regarded as an alternative to the World Council of Churches.

Howard’s appointment followed a sustained but unsuccessful effort to recruit a Third World Christian leader for the post. National leadership, it appeared, although of high quality, was still thin, forcing candidates to conclude they could not be spared from their national responsibilities.

Plans by Scott in the early 1970s to relocate the WEF offices from Colorado Springs to Beirut, Lebanon, were aborted during the civil war in that country. But the WEF has made more progress in shifting from its orchestrated-in-the-West beginnings than at first meets the eye.

Over the past year, the WEF leadership has deemphasized the idea of a central location and moved instead to the concept of a worldwide team of leaders who work in their own regions and travel for periodic consultations.

A delicate issue in the relationships of evangelicals at the international level is the relationship of the WEF, with its relatively spartan support from its national affiliates, and the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization, generously endowed by Billy Graham-related sources and led by Leighton Ford. It is therefore noteworthy that Howard directed the 1980 consultation at Pattaya, Thailand, which served as a follow-up to the 1974 Lausanne congress.

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Howard was most recently senior vice-president of the Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based Evangelism Explosion (CT, Jan. 22, p.31).

World Scene

The World Council of Churches has produced a major document on church practice, which it hopes will give the ecumenical movement a boost. Meeting in Lima, Peru, in January, nearly 100 Protestant and Eastern Orthodox theologians of the WCC Commission on Faith and Order (advised by Roman Catholic observers) unanimously adopted an agreement, “Baptism, Eucharist, and Ministry,” and asked their member denominations to respond officially, indicating the extent to which they were prepared to concur. The accord recognized both infant baptism and “believer’s baptism” of adults, but bars rebaptism. It also attempts to reconcile the Protestant view of Communion as a memorial with the Catholic view of it as a sacrifice. And it advocates an “episcopal” structure of the ministry, with bishops, priests, and deacons.

The Church of Scotland and the Roman Catholic Church will recognize the validity of each other’s baptism. The January ecumenical move cleared the way for a “common baptismal certificate” for the Presbyterians and Catholics, Scotland’s two largest denominations.

Evangelicals in the Netherlands are alarmed by a so-called antidiscrimination bill being debated in the Dutch parliament. Introduced last September by Minister of Justice Jacob de Ruiter and parliamentary undersecretary Kraayezeld Wouters, the measure would make it illegal for organizations—including schools, hospitals, and institutions for social and youth work—to exclude personnel because of homosexuality or cohabitation outside of marriage, or to maintain regulations forbidding these practices. The Dutch Evangelical Broadcasting Company is coordinating an extensive campaign against the bill, and 6,000 Christian schools have joined in protesting it.

The Church of Sweden may lose its role as national census taker. For more than two centuries the Lutheran churches have not only registered all births, baptisms, marriages, and deaths, but have maintained population records. Now a Swedish government committee has recommended that census records be turned over to the state social security organization and be processed by computer.

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How Christian are Western European countries? Recently released statistics from 1980 for the established churches in West Germany and Finland provide some insight. The Evangelical (Lutheran) Church of Germany reported that 42 percent of the West German population belonged to its 17 regional churches, but only a little more than 5 percent on the average attended worship on Sundays. The high point was Christmas Eve when a quarter of the members appeared. In Finland, 92 percent of all children born were baptized by the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland. But an average of only 3 percent of parishioners attended Sunday worship services.

Greece may be about to get civil marriage for the first time, over the strong objections of the Greek Orthodox Church. Currently only church weddings are valid. The church’s council of bishops insists that civil marriage is tantamount to prostitution and adultery and declares that those who contract a civil marriage will “automatically place themselves outside the ranks of the church.” The Greek Socialist government also seeks to repeal legislation mandating jail terms of up to a year for adultery and forbidding remarriage for any person sentenced for the offense.

Lida Vashchenko, one of the Pentecostal “Siberian Seven,” has returned to her home in Chernogorsk, Siberia, after being released from a Moscow hospital. Admitted to the hospital from refuge in the U.S. embassy on January 30 after a month-long hunger strike, Lida surprised family and others by taking food. She was released on February 10 and allowed to visit her family in the embassy before departing for Chernogorsk. She is expected to again apply for emigration for her and her family.

The Russian Orthodox Church has opened a new publishing center in Moscow that cost $2.75 million. Western observers puzzle over why the authorities even allowed the editorial offices to be built, and say the move illustrates the complexity of church-and-state relations in the Soviet Union.

An evangelical denomination has been given legal status in Hungary. It is the Hungarian Evangelical Fellowship, a branch of the Methodists that has nine pastors for 180 groups, serving 2,000 people.

The Romanian secret police are discriminating. In January, two U.S. pastors, a lawyer, and Evangelism Center International (ECI) official Curtis Nims made a one-week visit to the country. Curtis was singled out, interrogated, and the next day escorted to the airport and put on the first outbound flight. His companions completed their visit. ECI affiliates are Underground Evangelism and International Christian Aid.

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Five leaders of Ethiopia’s largest Protestant denomination, the Lutheran Mekane Yesus Church, were detained in January but released again after one week. Reports indicated they had been seized for attending a meeting that was not “properly authorized” and for violating unspecified government regulations.

The Orthodox Jewish monopoly on official religious life in Israel is being challenged by its Supreme Court. A case brought before it in January by two Reform rabbis could lead to equal legal status for the Reform and Conservative branches of Judaism. The court issued an order that requires the minister of religion and the Council of the Chief Rabbinate to show why non-Orthodox rabbis should not be allowed to register and perform marriages.

The government of Bahrain has moved to expel a Christian faith healer. Sumathy Michael, an Indian who moved to the Arab island nation in the Persian Gulf in 1964, had gained fame over the last seven years for her healings and exorcisms. Muslims and Hindus, as well as Christians, came to the home of the wife and mother to be anointed with oil and prayed over. But the numbers multiplied after an article about her appeared in the Arabic-language Akhbar al-Khaleej newspaper in December. The authorities investigated, found she was an embarrassment to the Telegu- and English-speaking congregations of the National Evangelical Church, and asked her to leave.

No Chance Of ‘Desexing’ Bible, Says Scholar

There has been much talk of the “desexing” of the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, but RSV committee chairman Bruce Metzger has recently sought to allay fears. Metzger, a New Testament professor at Princeton Theological Seminary, says there will be no tampering with language relating to Jesus, God, or the Holy Spirit.

Writing in a recent issue of the Presbyterian Communique, newsletter of a United Presbyterian renewal movement, Metzger said “the translator cannot alter history.”

“If, according to Deuteronomy 21:15 ff., only sons had the right of inheritance, and if Peter and Paul wrote instructions concerning the appropriate demeanor for Christian women at home and in the church, the translator cannot alter history,” Metzger wrote.

The RSV committee has differed with earlier translations, which employed masculine phraseology “even when this is not demanded by the original texts,” Metzger said. In some places, the King James translators inserted “man” or “men” despite the absence of an equivalent term in the texts. For example, Luke 17:34 in the KJV reads, “In that night there shall be two men in one bed.…” The Greek text more properly states “there shall be two in one bed.…”

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Metzger rejects the suggestion of some RSV translators that the word “God” be used regularly instead of “he,” “him,” or “his.” “That would result in intolerable English,” he believes, especially in passages like Romans 8:28–30, where the word “God” would be used 12 times in three verses.

The copyright to the RSV Bible is owned by the National Council of Churches, which is preparing a more “inclusivist” lectionary of Bible verses to be read during worship services. The new lectionary will, according to the NCC, attempt “to expand the range of images beyond the masculine to assist the church in understanding the full nature of God.” The lectionary is outside the jurisdiction of the committee of scholars overseeing the RSV Bible. The revision of the lectionary drew charges from the Roundtable, an organization of conservative religious leaders, that the NCC was “desexing” the Bible, since the lectionary is composed of Bible passages.

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