The Holy Spirit, Hispanics, and the Transformation of the American Church (Pt 1)

What exciting times we live in.

While we all stand privy to a Pentecostal/Charismatic explosion south of the equator as well as in Africa and Asia, many would be surprised by the fact that our nation is experiencing its own Pneumatic surge. What makes this growth even more exciting and unique is that it seems to be coming via the conduit of a booming ethnic demographic – the Hispanic American community.

Meanwhile John MacArthur, a teacher from whom I have learned much about exegesis, decides with his bizarre "Strange Fire" campaign to take on the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement, after decades of virtual détente between Pentecostal/Charismatics and dispensationalists. This, just as American Christianity is entering an unprecedented Holy-Spirit driven transformation likely to have a fundamental effect on how the Gospel is preached to an increasingly unbelieving nation in the new century.

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John, how kind of the Holy Spirit to use you as a conduit to shed light on something that will have the opposite of its intended effect – to show a Latino-rich movement ever-more Scriptural, credible and effective in its mission to preach the Word and make disciples.

What I mean is this: What do you get when you combine a religious faith narrative that embraces spiritual empowerment, signs, miracles and a prayer language with a passionate ethnicity committed to faith, family and celebration? The answer may very well be the catalyst for 21st century Christianity in America.

This is how I get there: According to the 2010 census, Hispanics make up 17 percent of our nation's total population or approximately 50 million people. A study from Pew Research in 2007 concluded that while 15 percent of all Latinos identify themselves as evangelicals, 68 percent adhere to the Catholic faith.

Yet the most compelling fact stems from the details. Out of the 15 percent Hispanic evangelical population the vast majority self-identify as Pentecostal/Charismatics. Simply stated, the majority of Hispanic Bible believing Christians embrace a Spirit-empowered experience.

Further extrapolation of data from the Catholic community reveals that of the majority of America's Hispanics attend Catholic parishes, 54 percent identify themselves as Catholic Charismatics. This substantiates the idea of an undeniable and conclusive affinity between Hispanics and the Spirit of God.

In other words, out of the 50-million-strong community, a majority of both Protestant and Catholic Hispanics subscribe to an ethos of Spirit-empowered living. Herein lies the uniqueness; in addition to carrying the moniker as America's largest ethnic minority, the community also counts with the descriptor as the only group where the majority self identify as Spirit filled. Simply, "Hispanics are people of the Spirit."

"Our surveys find that Pentecostalism and related charismatic movements have a very significant presence in the U.S. Hispanic community. We find, for example, that a majority of Latino Protestants identify with this movement, and that's also true of about half of Latino Catholics. Given the impressive growth of the Latino population in this country, including in both evangelical and Catholic churches, this almost certainly guarantees a greater influence of Pentecostal and charismatic movements within American Christianity more broadly," stated Dr. Luis E. Lugo, director of the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion & Public Life. "In short, one consequence of the growing Latinization of American society is the increasing Pentecostalization of American Christianity."

As the nation's fastest growing Spirit-empowered community, Hispanics arguably stand poised to impact and contextualize the narrative of America's 21st century faith experience. Measurable impacts already exist in the most prominent of historic Pentecostal denominations.

From the Assemblies of God to Church of God to The Foursquare Church, Hispanics already represent not only a growing constituency but in many respects the only measurable growth metric. Many argue that while white non-Hispanic Pentecostals continue to decline, Hispanic growth continues to compensate with new church plants every year.

"We began as an outreach, a department and ministry of major denominations. Today, we represent the very vitality of these churches. Without us, they would cease to grow and inevitably cease to exist," said Dr. Carlos Moran, director of Hispanic Ministries for the Church of God denomination.

Dr. Jesse Miranda, executive presbyter for the General Council of the Assemblies of God, the denomination with the largest number of Hispanic constituents in both number of adherents and churches, believes that this demographic stands as the bridge between the Latin American Pentecostal explosion and the antidote to the decline of American Christianity.

Dr. Miranda believes the challenge is more an issue of connectivity and resource allocation. "The biggest challenge we face is first, the disconnect between the center of resources (U.S.) and the center of spiritual vitality (Latin America); secondly is building bridges between these two centers in order for the Christian & Pentecostal church to make sense of the next generation who is connected to the world through vision and technology."

To that end, Hispanic Spirit empowered leaders understand that addressing the challenges will require prophetic (truth-telling) leadership, capacity building institutions, multi-faceted delivery mechanisms, authentic relational networks and an unbridled commitment to God-ordained change.

In part 2 of this series I will focus on how the Hispanic community is refocusing the Church toward a Gospel-centered engagement of social issues to help the poor and disadvantaged.

Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, President, National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference and Hispanic Evangelical Association. Robert Gittelson is co-founder of Conservatives for Comprehensive Immigration Reform and NHCLC Sr. Advisor on Immigration.

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