Roy Notice, D.Min. (Colombia Seminary/UTCWI)
Former President, Bethel Bible College, Jamaica
The relevance and effectiveness of the church’s ministry have come under great scrutiny by both sceptics and saints as they wrestle with the harsh social realities around them. As the number of congregations increases there seems to be a corresponding increase in social ills as evidenced by the high crime rate and lack of social cohesion in many societies, the increasing prevalence of HIV/AIDS, the large number of persons living in poverty and the relatively high levels of illiteracy and low levels of technological competence. The question that is frequently asked by us is, “what is the church doing?”
The critique of the church comes out of the expectation that the church ought to make a difference in society but it also arises from those who are of the view that the church needs to justify the need for its presence in society. The Pentecostal community cannot afford to ignore concerns related to its relevance in and impact on the society. The spotlight is on the Pentecostal community because of the growing presence and influence of this group on the religious stage. Pentecostalism is undoubtedly the most important religious movement to have emerged in the twentieth century. The phenomenal growth of the movement has attracted the attention of scholars not only from the field of religion and theology but also the humanities. The doctrines and practices of this movement have been admired and scorned, embraced and rejected, criticized and praised with equal intensity by persons around the world.
One of the areas that has been receiving increased attention by many surrounds Pentecostals and their commitment to societal and community transformation. How do we understand Pentecostal engagement with society, and how are Pentecostals engaging issues of poverty, social justice, community development, gender, and ecology? What impact does theology have in motivating Pentecostals to respond to social issues? What categories best explain Pentecostal responses to social issues in Jamaica? How do they compare to Pentecostal responses elsewhere?
In exploring this issue it is important to give a brief overview of the history and theology of the movement and see how its historical and theological foundations have helped to shape the ways in which it engages the wider community. This reflection must be done by both those who are within the movement and those who are outside looking in. Those on the outside must be willing to examine the movement’s commitment to social transformation through lenses of objectivity and openness while those on the inside should not shy away from external scrutiny even as they engage in self-examination.