The fifth session of the current Reformed-Pentecostal Dialogue took place in Legon, Accra, Ghana, under the theme “Ministering to the Needs of the World: Mission and Eschatology.”
At the beginning and end of each day, participants, representing the WCRC and various classical Pentecostal churches, gathered to pray, sing, read and reflect upon the Bible together. This time of sharing in spirituality and worship helped contextualize the discussions that took place and built greater community between participants.
This year the dialogue focused on the significance of eschatology—the theology of the end of time and return of Jesus Christ—to mission. To open the discussion, Karla Ann Koll (Reformed) and Van Johnson (Pentecostal) presented papers reflective of the teachings of their faith communities. Participants then raised questions and responded in a free-ranging discussion intended to tease out common interests and concerns, while noting differences in understanding.
In her presentation, Koll said that Reformed Christians, like Pentecostals, anticipate the return of Jesus Christ to bring the reign of God in its fullness. Their primary focus has been on sharing the gospel and caring for the lives and well-being of others in ways they believe are in keeping with that reign.
Following the teachings of John Calvin regarding the sovereignty of God and the belief that God’s redemptive intention encompasses all of creation, the Reformed have been less focused upon events surrounding the Second Coming and more on the call for the church to minister until Christ’s return, Koll said. They maintain that the Holy Spirit empowers them both to promote the gospel and work to transform culture and society in keeping with Christ’s will.
Johnson made the case that both time and space have challenged the way Pentecostals think about and act upon their understanding of eschatology. Pentecostals believe that God has been restoring the purity, passion and power of the church through the Holy Spirit in anticipation of the imminent return of Christ and the inauguration of his kingdom.
Like the early church, their expectation that time was short before Christ’s return has motivated much of their mission activity in which they have emphasized the proclamation of the gospel to the “lost.” Yet, after a century of existence, Pentecostal views of time are changing, leading to shifts in how they view mission, Johnson said. If they have more time to live and act, their view of the world around them must be taken more seriously than in the past. While continuing to affirm the “soon return” of the Lord, their notion of mission has broadened beyond proclamation or evangelization alone to include other missional activities. Now, mission includes a range of activities extending from evangelism to creation care as signs of the future kingdom.
Dialogue participants met with the president and faculty of the Protestant, ecumenical Trinity Theological Seminary to immerse themselves in something of Ghana’s church life, larger history and culture. The group was welcomed by church leaders from the Presbyterian Church of Ghana (PCG) and the Evangelical Presbyterian Church in the home of Setri and Akpene Nyomi.
On Sunday, participants worshiped with the Faith Congregation (PCG). The lectionary reading from 1 Thessalonians 3:8-13 seemed to be especially relevant to the discussions of dialogue participants. Following the service, they were graciously hosted for a meal as guests of the church. They also traveled to the Elmina slave castle for a day of reflection on past and present failures of the church to live out the gospel.
The dialogue, held 29 November to 4 December 2018, was hosted by the WCRC.
The Reformed team included: Karla Ann Koll, co-chair (Presbyterian Church (USA)/Costa Rica), Hanns Lessing (executive secretary for communion and theology, WCRC), Setri Nyomi (Evangelical Presbyterian Church, Ghana), Bas Plaisier (Protestant Church in the Netherlands) and Gabriella Rácsok (Reformed Church in Hungary).
The Pentecostal team included: Cecil M. Robeck, co-chair (Assemblies of God, USA), Teresa Chai (Assemblies of God, Malaysia), David Daniels (Church of God in Christ, USA), Jacqueline Grey (Australian Christian Churches), Jean-Daniel Plüss (Swiss Pentecostal Mission) and Van Johnson (Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada).