A couple of months ago, my wife and I were invited to attend the 4th annual ‘Holy Ghost Service’, organised by the Redeemed Christian Church of God (Ireland). Gotta say we had a blast – an unforgettable experience.
And safe to say that I’ve never been at an event remotely like it. And I’ve sort of been processing that night in my head ever since, and this post is a bit of that processing out loud ….
This meeting must easily be one of the largest religious gatherings in the country. Somewhere between 15-20,000 people in one location (a giant marquee in City West Hotel). It started at 8pm and went on (I’m told, we’d gone home) til about 3am.
First some context. The RCCG is a Nigerian Pentecostal denomination, and apart from the Roman Catholic Church, now one of the largest Christian denominations in the Republic of Ireland – maybe bigger that the ‘established’ Presbyterians and the Methodists. Their stated aim is to have one RCCG church within 5 minutes drive of every person in Ireland …. can’t say they lack vision and ambition.
The RCCG is huge in Nigeria and the Dublin event had ‘daddy’ G.O. and’ mummy’ G.O. (Mr & Mrs E A Adeboye, G.O. = General Overseer) there as guest speakers which was obviously a very very very big deal indeed for everyone there…. (reminded me of our audience with the Pope but that’s another story 😉
I’ve been re-reading a favourite book (which if you haven’t read it you should, it’s fascinating), Philip Jenkins’ The New Faces of Christianity: believing the Bible in the Global South. What he does so well is compare and contrast different ways Southern and Northern hemisphere Christians read the Bible, and especially how the ancient world of the Bible ‘speaks’ so directly into the contemporary world of much of the Global South.
And reading Jenkins provides a framework for interpreting what was going on that night in Citywest.
This was ‘global South’ Christianity in Dublin. More specifically, this was African Christianity in Dublin. And more specifically still, this was full-on Nigerian Pentecostal Christianity in Dublin.
There were numbers of Irish people there and the RCCG is making serious efforts at bridge-building both with other Christians and public bodies. On the (distant) stage were leaders of various organisations including the major of South Dublin Country Council.
My reactions were a mixture between being inspired and uplifted during amazing praise & singing, being hugely impressed at the sheer organisational effort behind such a massive one-off event, enjoying the wonderfully prepared children’s orchestra and singers, – along with various levels of theological and cultural ‘discomfort’.
I’m not going to go into the theological ones here on what was just a once-off experience (and we did not stay til the early hours when the main preaching happened). I’d rather turn things around – and ask what questions does such an event – and the nature of African Pentecostalism – pose to Irish Christians?
Here are some ….. and maybe you can add your own.
Expectancy that God makes a difference in life
There was a tremendous sense of expectancy that God would show up. In the huge choir and led worship (what singing); in the profuse and active prayer with everyone standing praying together out loud, calling out to God in a cacophony of sound; in how prayer was led from the front with a deep sense of approaching a holy and magnificent God. And tied up in these attitudes is the deep down belief that God is real, he will make a difference in your life. God will be seen by what he does. In the expectation of conversion, repentance, healing – God is alive and active and visibly so.
Good and Evil
At one point there was a long, and frankly to my western mind, rather bizarre sketch of guys dressed up as demons laughing at their success in keeping a succession of people under bondage – to illness, to fear and so on. Until Jesus turned up on stage, vanquished them and liberated the victims to a life of joy and victory.
Jenkins puts it this way:
‘For post-Enlightenment Christians in the West, the demonic elements in the New Testament mean so little that they are scarcely even an embarrassment any more …’ Jenkins, p98
Global South Christianity, and especially African Pentecostal theology, takes evil seriously. In a culture surrounded by occult, paganism and acts of great evil, as well as natural disasters such as floods, hurricanes and famines – the reality of deep spiritual warfare in woven into the fabric of faith.
Linked to this was an incredibly strong sense of authority. I mean this in a couple of ways. First the ultimate authority of God – there was huge respect for his word and a tangible expectation of God speaking powerfully through it. God was present and to be listened to.
Jenkins makes the telling point that in much of the Global South, the Bible is a ‘new’ book , a sacred text from God that has power and authority.
‘But for Christians in contemporary Africa and Asia, it is this newly discovered Bible that fascinates, and that burns from within. Reading this book opens the door to real inner power’. Jenkins, p.25
Second, and closely linked, was a huge sense of the authority of God’s ‘Spirit anointed’ leaders – both men and women. There was tremendous respect and honour given to the ‘Daddy’ and ‘Mummy’ G.O. of the RCCG worldwide, Pastor E A Adeboye and his wife. Leaving aside the fact that she was leading thousands in prayer, never have I been at a church meeting where a woman has led with such authority.
And this night was a reminder of another thing Jenkins says – and which Western Christians need reminding of. So often in the Christian blogging and publishing world, esp in the USA, there is still a deeply inbuilt assumption that the USA and the West is the ‘default form’ of evangelical Christianity. Again and again whole internal conversations go on with no hint that there is a much bigger world out there.
When will we westerners ‘get’ that the West is no longer the ‘norm’ – ‘the’ Christian perspective against which all others are measured?.
Whereas in the past you might read about curious forms of marginal Christian experience such as ‘African theologies’ or ‘Asian theologies’ – soon the boot will be on the other foot and we will know when the shift has happened when we start reading about the curious characteristics of ‘North American theologies’ or ‘Western European theologies’.
Comments, as ever, welcome.
8 thoughts on “The Global South arrives in force in Dublin”
You might find James K. A. Smith’s “Thinking in Tongues” interesting on the distinctives of Pentecostalism. His aim is to articulate the philosophical underpinings of the pentecostal worldview. He sees five distinctives: 1) a radical openess to God; 2) the active presence of the Spirit within creation; 3) a non-dualist affirmation of embodiment and materiality; 4) an affective narrative epistemology; 5) an escatalogical orientation to mission and justice. I found the book very thought provoking and quite helpful.
Hey Andrew. thanks for that, haven’t read Smith’s book. Sounds good.
I think that is a very good analysis Patrick. Two additional points spring to mind. I think the arrival of African Pentecostalism is, albeit quietly and often silently, exposing the degree to which Irish Christians are influenced by our sectarian past. By this I am referring to their relationship with the Roman Catholic Church. There is a wonderful ease with which the likes of RCCG leaders describe their relationship with the local parish priest or bishop. They are viewed as partners and this is manifest in joint Alpha courses and social action initiatives. In contrast even the most ecumenically-minded Irish Protestant will still feel they have to make a point about Catholic co-operation as if it is something exceptional rather than the most normal thing in the world. In fact many African Christians here go further than viewing co-operation with their Catholic brethren as normative. Some believe that their very existence here is driven by a divine appointment to return the favour that was done to them when Catholic missionaries, in their view, brought the gospel to Africa.
Secondly there is the view they have of themselves. They are quick to correct you if you describe their church as “African”. Their view is that RCCG is an international church and that they are all about Jesus. Period. This, of course, brings up a whole pile of questions about inter-cultural theology and ecclesiology.
Thanks Richard – intriguing in that the Irish RC Church is hardly exactly Pentecostal. I would have assumed the most natural bridges between churches like the RCCG will be with fellow Pentecostals ..
As a member of a very small, neither pentecostal or conservative- somewhere in the middle I would say, we are facing some exciting and challenging times with the influx of a couple of Nigerian families, totalling about twelve people in total.
Reading your paragraph on Expectancy, I am reminded of a prayer walk we all went on recently around our area. We were sent off, two by two, to walk a local estate near our church and pray as we walked along. My prayer partner was one of the lovely African women. As we walked along and prayed for the area, we saw a few people out and about in their gardens. My prayer partner suggested we go up to these folks and ask them if there was something we could pray for. A bi t reluctant but willing, I followed her suggestion. We got into conversation with an older women about her young nephew who was diagnosed with a terminal illness and only had a matter of weeks to live. So I prayed for this family and for what they were facing and for the young man.
As we walked away from that house, I asked my partner what she would have prayed for (she hadn’t said anything up to this point, allowing me to take the lead. I know she was being culturally sensitive/aware), and she said she would have claimed complete healing for the young man in the name of Jesus. Well I certainly felt that I lacked Expectancy that God makes a difference in a life in that moment. Interesting days ahead for this very mixed South meets West band of believers.
There is no doubt that the like of RCCG would have an affinity with Irish Pentecostals but this, in the light of the extraordinary vision and ambition you outlined in your post, is contrasted by the fact that there are 70 (?) times as many Catholics in Ireland. They really want to impact the whole nation and impact it quickly. Also with 80 or so parishes around the country the RCCG often don’t have any Christian neighbours except for Catholics and Anglicans. The bridge to the RC Church may not be the shortest but it is the most accessible.
What a great story Louise, thanks. And welcome to the blog ! 😉
I wonder sometimes whether we are too weighed down with baggage. Personally i’ve found thinking about ‘gospel’ as simply telling the good news of Jesus the risen Lord begins to change things ..
Loved this entry, thanks! Articulates stuff I’ve been thinking about…