THE ASSEMBLIES OF GOD,
ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH
WORLD COUNCIL OF CHURCHES
AOG Theologian Tells Pentecostals to be Less Defensive and More Ecumenical
AOG Represented at 2000 Vatican Jubilee Celebration
AOG Represented at Vatican-Sponsored Assisi Peace Conference
An Ecumenical News report circulated on September 21, 1998 casually mentioned that a World Council of Churches “continuation committee” included a “respected Pentecostal representative” from the Assemblies of God and a representative from the Roman Catholic Church. The committee's objective was to form a global ecumenical forum. An inquiry to ENI as to the identity of the Pentecostal representative brought the following response:
“The World Council of Churches has informed me that the Assemblies of God member involved in talks is Dr Cecil M. Robeck. But the WCC insisted in response to my question that Dr Robeck is not officially representing either the Assemblies of God or the Pentecostal churches in these discussions.”
Dr. Cecil M. Robeck, Jr. is Professor of Church History and Ecumenics in the School of Theology at Fuller Theological Seminary. Dr. Robeck appears to be spearheading the ecumenical movement in the Pentecostal churches, having attended WCC conferences for several years.
The web site of Pentecostal Charismatic Theological Inquiry International provides information on the ecumenical initiatives of Pentecostals and, specifically, Dr. Robeck. In 1996, Dr Robeck led a team of Pentecostal scholars to dialogue with the apostate World Alliance of Reformed Churches, initiating a five year International Reformed-Pentecostal Dialogue.
The WARC now permits member denominations to dispense with the traditional requirement for clergy to affirm the central doctrine of the Christian faith - that salvation is through “Christ alone.” Instead, WARC general secretary, Dr Milan Opocensky, maintains that churches and their members must be made to understand that their “salvation is at stake” if they refuse to reject unjust economic structures. (ENI 2/13/98) Based on the newly adopted social gospel, the WARC is seeking full communion with the Lutheran World Federation, which is in the process of uniting with the Roman Catholic Church.
Pentecostal ministers have been meeting with the World Council of Churches since 1994. At a conference held that year, Dr. Robeck framed the discussion of Pentecostalism by taking issue with its “insensitive” approach to evangelizing (Robeck calls it “proselytizing”) those who already profess to be Christian, and in particular by insulting high ranking clergy by inquiring if they know Jesus Christ as Savior. Dr. Robeck is also the author of “Mission and the Issue of Proselytism” -- a document critical of efforts by Pentecostals to convert Roman and Greek Catholics under the assumption that such persons are not of the Christian faith.
Dr. Robeck’s choice of words is unfortunate and diminishes the true gospel of Jesus Christ. There is a difference between proselytism and evangelism, according to Webster's Dictionary. Proselytism converts to “some religion, system, opinion, or the like” whereas evangelism preaches “the gospel”:
Proselytism: To convert to some religion, system, opinion, or the like; to bring, or cause to come, over; to proselyte.
Evangelism: To instruct in the gospel; to preach the gospel to; to convert to Christianity; as, to evangelize the world.
Dr. Robeck has made demonstrable progress in leading Pentecostals to repentance for offending professors of Christianity with the gospel. The following statement was issued in 1996 by Pentecostals attending a Costa Rica World Council of Churches meeting:
“In this meeting with the WCC, we have discussed and debated a number of mutual concerns. We were challenged, for instance, to consider how Pentecostals have sometimes proselytized other Christians. This has brought offense to the Gospel as well as to them.”
Laying the groundwork with Dr. Robeck for ecumenical unity between Pentecostals and members of the World Council of Churches is theologian, Juan Sepulveda, author of The Andean Highlands: An Encounter with Two Forms of Christianity (WCC Publications). The ENI report below summarizes Sepulveda’s plea for ecumenical unity at the 1998 Latin American Pentecostal Meeting.
Ecumenical News International
ENI News Service
28 September 1998
Pentecostals to be less defensive and more ecumenical
Havana, 28 September (ENI)--Pentecostal churches should have the courage to overcome their traditional defensive attitude and re-adopt the vision and the practices that inspired the early years of the Pentecostal movement, according to Chilean theologian, Juan Sepulveda.
In a speech on "Pentecostalism and Ecumenism", given during a Latin American Pentecostal Meeting (EPLA-98) from 23 to 27 September in Cuba, Sepulveda said that Pentecostalism's origins were profoundly ecumenical. However, over time, the negative reaction of mainstream churches to Pentecostal campaigns had prompted Pentecostal churches to move further away from the mainstream and to think of themselves as churches separate from the rest of Christianity.
"Other churches were not willing to appreciate the positive aspects and the renewal that marked Pentecostal movements," said Sepulveda, according to the Latin American and Caribbean Communications Agency. "Everything was rejected, condemned and ridiculed [by other churches] and in many cases the Pentecostal experience was described as the work of the devil," he said.
This was one of the factors that forced Pentecostal groups within the mainstream churches to set up separate churches, he said. Then the gulf grew wider because of the "self-awareness" that Pentecostals began to acquire.
"The new Pentecostals felt that God had begun to return the church to its spiritual purity, and they began to view their church as a community of those who had also been restored by the power of the Baptism of the Holy Spirit," he said.
This perception led them to begin to judge other churches as "mere human institutions".
However, no church possessed the "complete Gospel", Sepulveda said, pointing out that this mistake had been one of the causes of Pentecostal "impoverishment". The ecumenical movement was a gift of the Holy Spirit, he added. A return to the visions of early Pentecostalism would allow Pentecostal churches to accompany the churches that were trying to "walk together in ecumenical hope". [325 words]
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Cecil Robeck, Jr. Represents Fuller/AOG at Vatican Jubilee Celebration
Excerpt from Fuller
Focus, Spring 2000
Robeck Meets with Church Leaders in Israel and the Vatican
Cecil M. (“Mel”) Robeck, Jr. (M.Div., ’73; Ph.D., ’85), professor of church history and ecumenics and Fuller’s “ambassador to the church worldwide,” participated in two historic meetings during the Christmas and New Year holidays, one in Israel, the other at the Vatican. As cochair of the International Roman Catholic-Pentecostal Dialogue, cochair of the local Evangelical-Roman Catholic Dialogue, and consultant to the Commissions on Faith and Order of the National and World Councils of Churches, he is an apologist for all evangelicals as well as for the Pentecostal tradition.
Dr. Robeck also serves as a representative of Fuller to international church dialogues and forums. After receiving an invitation from Cardinal Edward Cassidy, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, on behalf of Pope John Paul II, Robeck attended the ecumenical Jubilee Celebration at the Vatican last January.
The bronze doors of Rome's four basilicas are opened once every 50 years. During a special ecumenical ceremony on January 18, the bronze doors of St. Paul’s “Outside the Wall” were opened. They symbolized Jesus as the Way, the Truth, and the Life—the Door through which all must enter for salvation. Christian leaders of various world communions were invited to participate in the event.
“The ceremony and worship service at St. Paul’s Outside the Wall were very moving experiences,” says Robeck. Before the doors were opened, the international church leaders knelt and prayed together, then proceeded through the doors into the basilica. The ecumenical service included Scripture reading, prayer, and readings from Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Fr. Georges Florovsky. This was followed by an audience with Pope John Paul II.
“Those who participated in the celebration acknowledged that while we, as Catholics, Orthodox, evangelicals and other Protestants, may not be in full communion with one another, we desire to be on the way to having greater relationships with one another,” explains Robeck. “By coming together at this event, we were saying that we would like to enter the new millennium with a renewed commitment to work with one another,” he adds.
Robeck had just returned from another historic meeting that took place last December, when members of the Secretaries of Christian World Communions had audiences with the Greek, Armenian, and Latin Patriarchs, as well as the bishops of the Anglican and Lutheran churches in Jerusalem. Since Christians (most of them Palestinians) constitute only two-and-one-half percent of the population, they try to maintain relations with both Muslims and Jews. But they often find themselves squeezed between members of these two communities...
“Fuller has always believed in making a positive contribution to the churches worldwide,” continues Robeck. “We expanded that commitment in the ‘80s and ‘90s to include not simply the evangelical churches and Protestantism, but also Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism...”
Cecil Robeck Jr. Represents AOG at Vatican-sponsored Assisi Peace Conference
18-Jan-2002 -- EWTN News Brief
VATICAN, (CWNews.com) - The Italian daily newspaper Avvenire has published a list of the religious leaders expected to participate in the January 24 inter-religious observance at Assisi.
The Vatican has not yet released an official list of the participants, explaining that the list will not be considered complete until all those invited have responded. An estimated 300 people are expected to be involved, representing 44 different religious bodies.
Avvenire reported that 33 cardinals are expected, led by the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Angelo Sodano; the prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re; the president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Cardinal Francois-Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan; the president of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity, Cardinal Walter Kasper; and Cardinal Etchegaray, who organized the original inter-religious ceremony in Assisi in 1986. Also present will be representatives of the episcopal conferences of Algeria, Angola, the Philippines, Indonesia, Pakistan, Nigeria, Rwanda, and Sudan-- countries where inter-religious dialogue is particularly important.
The Orthodox churches of the world will send 11 patriarchs to Assisi, led by the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople. But no representative of the Moscow patriarchate is expected.
About 50 Islamic leaders will attend, coming from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Egypt, Iran, the Philippines, and Jordan. And Jewish rabbis will come from Jerusalem, France, and the United States-- along with Elio Toaff, the former chief rabbi of Rome.
Protestant bodies will be represented by Konrad Kaiser, the secretary-general of the World council of Churches; Anglican Bishop Richard Garrard of Rome; Setri Nyomi of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches; George Freeman of the World Methodist Council; CECIL ROBECK OF THE PENTECOSTAL CHURCH; Alvin Jackson of the Disciples of Christ; Theodor Angelou of the European Baptist Federation; and Bert Beach of the Seventh-Day Adventists.
The Vatican also expects representatives of Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, and traditional African faiths.
The Italian government will be represented in Assisi by President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi and Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.
All these participants are expected to be aboard a specially chartered train that will leave Rome for Assisi on the morning of January 24, returning that evening.