This is the first post in a new series by Dr. Rick Waldrop. In this series he will be exploring the relationship between Pentecostalism and the global poor. New posts every Friday!

“Pentecostal churches are not “sects,” “steered by U.S. capital and the CIA”. They have sprung up out of the ground everywhere, like mushrooms. They are an independent popular movement of the poor. They have something to say to the whole of Christendom on earth, and have liberating experiences to pass on to all men and women”[1].

Jürgen Moltmann

“Pentecostalism has arisen principally among the poorest and most excluded sectors of society, which, because of this condition, find themselves exposed to falling into all kinds of other social ills”[2].

Juan Sepúlveda

Pentecostalism from the Perspective of the Poor

To write a complete essay on the topic of “Pentecostals and the Poor” would be a gargantuan task given the amount of historical, theological, sociological and contextual information that would need to be covered. Indeed, the subject could well be the topic of an entire volume or book series. Interestingly, the recent 47th Annual Meeting of the Society of Pentecostal Studies, held in March, 2018,  in Cleveland, Tennessee, was dedicated to the topic of “The Good News of the Kingdom and the Poor in the Land”. An excellent example from that conference was my colleague, Wilmer Estrada Carrasquillo’s paper, “A [not so] Poor Conversation: The Poor and their Contribution to Wesleyan and Pentecostal Thought”[3], in which he cites several scholars of Pentecostalism, and others, in regards to the pivotal role the poor have played, not only as privileged recipients of evangelistic and missionary efforts but, more importantly, as protagonists and central subjects in the rise and development of the movement worldwide. When Gustavo Gutiérrez wrote of La fuerza historica de los pobres [4] (The Power of the Poor u History) fromLimain1979 he probably had little comprehension as to the implications of what was actually taking place on the ground in relation to Pentecostals and the poor.But to these issues, distinctions and developments we will turn our attention after some brief caveats.

For the purposes of this series, we will necessarily be selective in terms of how much time to spend in the different areas of emphasis that may help us understand better the chosen topic. Due to the broad range of practices and emphases in the constellation of Pentecostal values, here will also be some limitations as to which of those will be touched upon.

A note of clarification is also in order to establish the differentiation between the use of the terms “Pentecostals” and “Pentecostalism”. My understanding is that there are many contextual iterations or manifestations of Pentecostal theology, thus many different Pentecostalisms. Time will not allow us to go into detail here but, for example, Euro-American Pentecostalism in North America will generally have a different disposition toward the poor than African or Latin American Pentecostalisms, and even then there are many nuances or hues in the matrix of the Pentecostal churches in those continents. For example, in Africa, the complexity is great if the African Instituted (or Initiated) Churches[5] are included in the mix of the “historic” missionary-related Pentecostal churches and the more indigenous or autochtonous national or regional Pentecostal bodies with little or no direct ties to Western Pentecostal churches. Similar observations can be made of the Pentecostal churches in Latin America and, to some extent, Asia.

Therefore, to reflect upon “Pentecostals and the Poor” seems to be a more accurate way of approaching the subject since I see my objective as being able to communicate something of the disposition of the Pentecostal churches, leaders and people in general toward the poor. Still, the complicating question must be posed: “Which Pentecostals and from where?”

“Good News to the Poor”

Recently, the global Lutheran-Pentecostal Dialog was held in Santiago, Chile (October 7-11, 2018) and the mutually agreed upon topic of the conversation was “Good News to the Poor”.  From the Pentecostal perspective, the location was ideal for the discussion of this subject. Chile is truly a laboratory for all things Pentecostal. The Chilean Pentecostal movement, one of the earliest on record, dates back to 1909, with no direct connection with the famed Los Angeles Azusa Street revival[6]. It was in Chile from which one of the first of a long list of sociological studies of Pentecostalism was executed and published in 1968 in Spanish by Christian Lalive D’Epinay, and later translated under the auspious title Haven of the Masses: A Study of the Pentecostal Movement in Chile[7]. Interestingly, in that volume there is a printed Scripture text from Isaiah 61:1-2 included on the page of acknowledgments just before foreword:

“The spirit of the Lord is upon me,
Because the Lord has anointed me;
He has sent me to bring good new to the poor,
To bind up the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives,
And release to the prisoners;
To proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,
And the day of vengeance of our God.”

Isaiah 61:1-2

It was also in Chile where much later a study was developed on “Prophetic Pentecostalism”[8] which chronicles, among other things, the case of the Pentecostal support of the Allende socialist government and prophetic witness, together with Lutherans and others, against the atrocities of the Pinochet regime. In that volume is also the interesting case of social activism of a Pentecostal congregation in the working class neighborhood of La Victoria in Santiago and the rise of the Pentecostal NGO, SEPADE (in English, Evangelical Service for Development)[9].

The subjects of “Pentecostals” and “poverty” or “the poor” have been heavily researched during the past 40 years from a variety of perspectives and with a broad variety of conclusions.[10]  It is apparent that this very strong and intimate relationship does exist between the poor and Pentecostals.

Speaking of poverty, a second note of clarification, briefly, is needed in relation to the term  “the poor”. Although poverty may be understood as relative to specific cultures and contexts, here we will take, as a point of departure, the idea of the materially poor, or as Peruvian Pentecostal pastor and theologian Darío López Rodríquez writes in his seminal work, of ‘God’s Special Love for the Poor and Marginalized’:

“…Jesus’s pronouncement in the synagogue of Nazareth had a very explicit social and political content. The Messiah had come to proclaim good news to the poor: euangelizō ptōchos (Luke 4:18). It is worth noting that this declaration began in the underdeveloped province of Galilee, a region populated by a mixed race that the pious of Jerusalem despised, an area inhabited by hundreds of widows, orphans, poor, and unemployed. From Galilee began the announcement of the good news of liberation to the poor and oppressed” [11]

Darío López Rodríquez

Unfortunately, however, it cannot be said that all Pentecostals share the same concern for the poor that may be evident in places like Chile, Peru, Ghana or Nigeria. So, the complex question remains to be further explicated, what is the nature of the relationship between Pentecostals and the poor?

[1] Jürgen Moltmann, “Preface” in Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen, ed., The Spirit in the World: Emerging Pentecostal Theologies in Global Contexts, Eerdmans, 2009, p. ix.

[2] Juan Sepúlveda, “Reflections on the Pentecostal Contribution to the Mission of the Church in Latin America”, in Journal of Pentecostal Theology 1(1992), p. 98.

[3] Estrada-Carrasquillo, Wilmer, paper presented to the Annual Meeting of the Society of Pentecostal Studies, Cleveland, Tennessee, March 8-10 2018.

[4] Gutiérrez, Centro de Estudios y Publicaciones, 1979, later published in English as The Power of the Poor in History, Orbis, 1983.

[5] See Allan Anderson, African Reformation: African Initiated Christianity in the 20th Century. African World, 2001.

[6] See historians of Chilean Pentecostalism, including W.C. Hoover, Historia del avivamiento Pentecostal en Chile. Excelsior, 1948; Luis Orellana Urtubia, El fuego y la nieve: Historia del movimiento pentecostal en Chile 1909-1932. CEEP Ediciones, 2006; and Victor Sepúlveda Fernandois, La pentecostalidad en Chile. CEEP Publicaciones, 2009.

[7] See Christian Lalive d’Epinay, El refugio de las masas: Estudio sociológico del protestantismo chileno. Editorial Del Pacifico, 1968; in English, Lutterworth Press, 1969.

[8] See Frans H. Kamsteeg, Prophetic Pentecostalism in Chile: A Case Study on Religion and Development Policy. The Scarecrow Press, 1998.

[9] See

[10] To mention just a few, see Rebecca Pierce Bomann, Faith in the Barrios: The Pentecostal Poor in Bogotá, Lynne Reinner Publishers, 1999; Robert Mapes Anderson, Vision of the Disinherited: The Making of American Pentecostalism. Oxford University Press, 1979; Cecilia Loreto Mariz. Coping with Poverty: Pentecostals and Christian Base Communities in Brazil. Temple University Press, 1994; and R. Andrew Chestnut,  Born Again in Brazil: The Pentecostal Boom and the Pathogens of Poverty. Rutgers University Press, 1997.

[11] Darío López Rodríguez, The Liberating Mission of Jesus: The Message of the Gospel of Luke. Translated from the Spanish by Stefanie E. Israel and Richard E. Waldrop. Pickwick Publications, 2012, p. 16.

Note from the Editorial Team:
Engaged Pentecostalism is a community that values open dialogue and respectful engagement from different perspectives. The views expressed above are the author's own and do not reflect those of every part of the community.

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Rick Waldrop

Author: Rick Waldrop

Dr. Richard E. Waldrop and his wife, Janice M. Waldrop, have served as career missionaries and educators with the Church of God (Cleveland) World Missions. They have served for 40 years (1976-2016) at different posts in five countries, including Guatemala, Costa Rica, Honduras, Ecuador and the USA. Today, they lead the Shalom Project, an organization aimed at providing holistic mission education and empowerment.