City Harvest Church welcomed scholars and attendees from over 30 nations at the Global Pentecostal Summit which took place from 3 to 6 November. City News brings you the reports of each day’s happenings, beginning with Friday, 3 November.
The Global Pentecostal Summit or GPS (3-6 Nov 2023) was a rare confluence of Pentecostal theology and experience. The summit drew Pentecostal scholars and presenters from the West as well as the Majority World (all countries designated as developing and all demographics designated as Global South), and attendees came from over 30 nations. Organised by City Harvest Church and supported by the Oxford Centre for Mission Studies, the summit was the brainchild of Pentecostal scholars Professor Douglas Petersen and Professor Byron Klaus, along with Kong Hee, the senior pastor of CHC. The two professors also served as moderators for the sessions of the summit.
The GPS was a departure from the preacher-led Pentecostal conferences that CHC was used to. A symposium like GPS gives academic scholars a platform to discuss key issues faced by global Christianity today, as well as the future role of Pentecostal scholarship in discerning the implications of the Spirit’s movement globally. Sixteen papers were presented at the summit, all of which will be compiled into a volume.
The first Global Pentecostal Summit took place in Costa Rica in 1996, and resulted in the book The Globalisation of Pentecostalism: A Religion Made to Travel, which assembled the papers from thought leaders and Pentecostalism from that summit.
Prof Byron, as CHC addresses him, told the attendees in his introduction on 3 Nov: “I want you to realise that as the scholars come and make their presentations, the kinds of truth that come in can change your life too. So, I want you to realise that the Spirit of God is working through these sessions. They’re not necessarily going to be the usual inspirational sort of thing—they’re going to be deep and focused; they’re going to challenge your mind—but in those moments, we believe that the Spirit of God can move.”
Dr Brian Stiller, the global ambassador of the World Evangelical Alliance, opened the day with a devotion based on Hebrews 11:9-11, which talks about Abraham: “By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country”. Dr Stiller explained that while the verses were about Abraham, it was really Jesus’ attempt to show Christians what faith is.
He then asked the congregation what it meant for them to live in the land, sharing with them how the outlook of Pentecostals was very different at the start of the century. “If you flip back 100 years, our eyes were so heavily directed to ‘Heaven is coming soon’. So, our phrase was ‘Jesus, get me out of here as soon as You can’!” he related.
When the children of Israel were brought to Babylon, the words of God that came to them through the prophet Jeremiah were that they needed to settle, be productive, raise families, promote peace and avoid being distracted by foreign gods. God wanted them to be His people wherever they went. Dr Stiller interpreted it to mean bless the land.
It is, however, challenging to engage culture in a way that is faithful to the Scripture, yet not become wrapped up in glamour and power. The life of Abraham offers three substantial lessons: first, God owns all the lands. Second, wherever we are, it is His; and finally, whether we are in Babylon or in the Promised Land, God calls His people to bless the land.
“To live in the land is to be the people of God wherever we are,” Dr Stiller preached. “And to be the people of God is to be framed by Jesus and His life, His values, His ethics, His kindness and His love.”
PRESENTATIONS ON DAY 1: FROM THE DIVERSITY OF ATONEMENT TO THE ROLE THAT PENTECOSTAL CHURCHES PLAY
The first paper was presented by Frank Macchia, Professor of Christian Theology at Vanguard University in California. Titled, “From the Atonement to Pentecost: An Exegetical and Theological Reflection”, Dr Macchia’s paper examined the vast diversity of people Christ had opened Himself to and represented when He died on the cross, and drew a connection to the day of Pentecost when the Spirit came to remove all social barriers. The theologian quoted Revelations 5:9-10, which says that Jesus had redeemed people “from every tribe and language and people and nation”.
In his response to Dr Macchia’s presentation, Dr Ivan Satyavrata summarised it well: “Christ’s death from the cross embraces and incorporates within themselves, humanity in all its diversity, as the Spirit is poured out on the day of Pentecost, drawing to Himself the diverse body that He paid the price on the cross for a diversity that remains through all of eternity,”
Dr Kim-Kwong Chan, a Visiting Research Fellow at the Holy Spirit Center in Hong Kong, China presented his paper on “The Challenges of the Church in China in the Next Decade”. He shared his observations on how the changing policies in China over the last decade has affected how the society views Christianity and the dynamics within the churches in China, and what the coming years will look like for the church.
Dr Wonsuk Ma, Distinguished Professor of Global Christianity at Oral Roberts University presented “Toward Spirit-Empowered Leadership: An Old Testament Foundation”. His paper studied the weaknesses of the charismatic leadership model popularised by Max Weber in 1904 and offers an alternative: Spirit-filled empowered leadership. Dr Ma listed four key characteristics of ideal Spirit-empowered leadership as seen from the Old Testament texts: Spirit-empowered leaders have a call from God; human alignment with God; serving God and people, and lastly, Spirit-empowered leaders are empowered to empower others. “If the chosen leader is only good for sacrifice and hard work, does he or she enjoy anything in life?” Dr Ma posed in his conclusion, before noting that the special authority given by God, relatability and partnership with God is the Spirit-empowered leader’s “reward”.
Pastor Juan Angel Castro, the general director of the Assemblies of God in El Salvador and senior pastor of Centro Evangelistico presented “The Role of the Church in the Context of Violence”. “I offer this ‘testimony’ to you as an affirmation that the Holy Spirit’s power is most evident in places of deepest tragedy and darkness,” he started. Giving a historical view of how El Salvador became “one of the most violent countries in the world”, the pastor explained the role of the Pentecostal church in the nation. He revealed the Holy Spirit strategy given to the church: “Never lift”, which symbolises the relentless and vigilant pursuit of peace in El Salvador, saving one violent gangster at a time. He went on to share testimonies of how violent gang members encountered God and gave their lives to serve Him. Pastor Juan ended with a powerful statement: “The same power that raised Jesus from the dead empowers my life and followers of Jesus in El Salvador. We will ‘never, ever lift!’”
Gani Wiyono, the the senior pastor of the Assemblies of God church GSJA El-Roi Grogol in Jakarta presented his paper on “Healing God’s Creation: A Contribution of Pentecostal Understanding of Divine Healing to Ecotheology in Response to the Global Ecological Crisis”. He sought to use divine healing as a source to build an ecotheology, to raise ecological awareness for Pentecostals as well as other Christians. He explained that many Pentecostals think that the current world will eventually be destroyed in a cataclysmic event and replaced by a new world; hence it seems pointless to fight for the preservation of the world we live in today. He argued that if God is present in His creation and dwells among them through the Holy Spirit, as Scripture says, then the universe has intrinsic value in itself. Using the parable of the Good Samaritan, Pastor Wiyono suggested that the “neighbour” of human beings is not just their fellow mankind, but also the elements of God’s creation. Just as the person needed the help of the Good Samaritan, the sick Earth also needed the help of mankind.
WELCOMING THE SCHOLARS
After a four-hour break, the attendees returned to CHC’s main halls for the Grand Opening. Prof Doug and Prof Byron Klaus took to the stage to share the history of the GPS, followed by an introduction of all the speakers at the summit.
The attendees also heard the testimony of Myanmar Harvest Church testimony, shared by Julia Ong, on behalf of her senior pastor David Mang Thang and his wife Ruth. She shared about the difficulties faced by MHC because of the military rule in Myanmar. “It was a very frightening time but despite all these challenges and persecution, we kept persevering in preaching the gospel,” she said. “We keep going because the Burmese really need Jesus.”
After a beautiful medley of classic Christian worship songs performed by CityWorship, Pastor Kong presented his paper titled, “Singapore: The Antioch of Asia?”
He began by drawing similarities between the city of Antioch and Singapore. Both are well-known strategic locations and cosmopolitan cities that are multiracial, multi-religious, and multilingual. The churches in Singapore also share many biblical elements with the Church of Antioch. “For example, they both focus on urban ministry. There is the empowerment of the laity. There’s also compassion for the poor. And both are sending out churches—it was from Antioch that Christianity became a world religion,” he noted.
Next, he presented two challenges that the churches of Singapore need to overcome to become the Antioch of Asia. The first challenge is the fostering of racial and religious harmony. He gave the example of Paul in Athens, engaging the people of other religions with humility, respect and kindness. “He did not insult or condemn their religious beliefs, but critically sought to find commonalities without surrendering his own conviction in the centrality of Christ,” the pastor said. “Can you do that? Can you sit down and have a nice fellowship with somebody of another religion, even if you cannot agree with their beliefs?”
The next challenge concerns Christian activism. Singapore has seen a series of activities led by the Christian community wielding “Christian values” to publicly voice out objections against certain events. He noted that there is very little Christian activism, if any at all, in the book of Acts.
While Paul was against issues like homosexuality and slavery, he did not force his Christian values upon Roman society through lobbying or demonstrations. “In fact, all New Testament writers seek to win the ungodly to Christ by living exemplary lives, in obedience to God’s will,” Pastor Kong pointed out.
Pentecostals have a unique definition of social justice. Prof Doug’s definition is this: “meeting essential human needs within a community and creating an environment where the poor and oppressed can flourish through experiences of the Divine.” Pastor Kong noted that instead of engaging in direct social-political interactions, Pentecostals create communities of respect and empowerment, to build up the church community for the effective witnessing of the gospel.
His paper proposed that Pentecostalism is pivotal in maintaining and fostering racial and religious harmony, which is good for church growth and prevents social strife caused by Christian activism. For that to happen, there needs to be an educational renaissance within the Pentecostal circles for theological clarity and robust understanding.
At the end of the session, Pastor Kong invited the speakers to lay hands on and pray for on the full-time church staff and full-time ministers in the room.