The Holy Spirit, Hispanics, and the Transformation of the American Church (Pt. 2)

In part one of this series I explained that without the presence of Hispanic churches, America's leading Pentecostal/Charismatic denominations would be in serious decline and not in step with the Pentecostal/Charismatic explosion that the rest of the globe is experiencing. In fact, the Hispanic community represents the nation's fastest growing Christian community, one can argue that the future of American Evangelicalism lies in the hands of the Hispanic-Spirit empowered church.

Here in part two, I will explain on how the Hispanic experience will reshape Church engagement in social issues.

First, the transformation of America's Christian landscape arrives via the conduit of Spirit-filled Hispanics committed to both biblical orthodoxy and orthopraxy.

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Dr. Gaston Espinosa, a leading scholar on Hispanic Pentecostal/Charismatics, asserts: "The unique nature of the community stems out of its core commitments. First, they have a deep commitment to reading the Bible as the infallible and inerrant Word of God. The Bible is the gold standard in the Latino Pentecostal community. While some groups have wavered, Latino Pentecostals have held fast to their convictions."

Espinosa believes that this first commitment gives birth to a second and a third – personal holiness and evangelistic-social ministry. This distinguishes Hispanic Spirit empowered believers from other American religious movements that have traded the Gospel for moral relativity and a social agenda with no transforming effect on the soul.

Parenthetically, this community does not distinguish nor does it separate evangelism from social action. To Hispanic Pentecostals and Charismatics, these biblically mandated exercises converge around Matthew 25 and John 3:16.

In other words, while many non-Latino evangelicals view justice through the optics of societal transformational and political advocacy, Latinos engage in social or compassionate evangelism as an exercise in prophetic activism.

Simply stated, we feed the hungry, quench the thirsty, and clothe the naked in order to shine the light of Christ, for all to come to the knowledge of Christ as Lord. We do justice so people can come to Jesus.

"Going all the way back to Susie Villa Valdez at Azusa Street and the powerful healing crusades of Francisco Olazabal in the 1920s and 1930s, Hispanic people of the Spirit have always mixed evangelism and social work to reach out to youth, immigrants, troubled adults, and social outcasts. In essence, Hispanics see Spirit empowered living as a platform for societal transformation," asserted Dr. Jesse Miranda, executive presbyter for the General Council of the Assemblies of God.

"The Hispanic contribution lies embedded in the fact that we live in the hyphen, [between the] Anglo and Hispanics worlds; [and the] Third-World and Western World. Ours is the life of the Samaritan. As Hispanics we can identify with the Pentecostal explosion in Latin America, yet we live among the declining spirituality of the Western church that is suffering from spiritual fatigue."

Historically, Hispanic Pentecostal/Charismatics entered America's religious landscape primarily as a result of pioneers such as Olazabal, Juan Lugo, and Henry C. Ball. Subsequently, the next generation of leaders established the framework of church planting and incorporated the same missional and incarnational thread through the ministries of Ricardo Tanon, Demetrio Bazan, Roberto Fierro, Yiye Avila, Manuel Perez Sanchez and others.

For example, Tanon, one of America's first Hispanic megachurch pastors, grew John 3:16 in New York City by preaching Christ and reaching out to the suffering, marginalized, poor, homeless and outcast in the south Bronx.

Meanwhile, on the other coast, Danny DeLeon, senior pastor of Templo El Calvario, established one of the earliest community development outreaches for the purpose of evangelizing by meeting the daily needs of the community.

Also, today's orthopraxy – compassionate evangelism, or sometimes described as prophetic justice – makes itself manifest through a weekly Matthew 25 ministry at Cantico Nuevo Assembly of God in Sacramento where weekly groceries stand provided for those in need.

Moreover, Third Day Worship Center in Allentown, Pa., provides the "fishes and bread" for juveniles from broken families by providing a safe haven that includes sports and education.

Without a doubt, Hispanic people of the Spirit daily reconcile sanctification with service and covenant with community.

Moreover, emerging non-denominational leaders are also "creating space" for further growth amplifying the aforementioned core values.

Denominations no longer own exclusive rights to the Hispanic Pentecostal Charismatic community. The rise of independent networks, some self identified as apostolic/prophetic in the spirit of Ephesians 4:11, in addition to independent church plants, speak to a decentralization of the movement in the 21st century.

Leaders such as Guillermo Maldonado, Alberto Delgado, Chris Richards, Jeremiah Torres, Jaime Loya, Sergio De La Mora, Obed Martinez, Rudy Gracia, Juan Ramos and others lead the way in facilitating a platform of non denominationally affiliated ministries. In actuality, independent works far outnumber denominational church plants.

Correspondingly, while previous generational leadership structures stood defined primarily by the presence of nationally recognized evangelists and denominational overseers, today, the leadership mantle lies on the shoulders of Hispanic Spirit empowered megachurch pastors.

"Hispanic Spirit empowered megachurch pastors have emerged as the most influential leaders and defacto gatekeepers of the movement. Twenty years ago, the number of Hispanic megachurches or churches with 2,000 or more Sunday attendees represented approximately a handful of ministries," expressed Dr. Gilbert Velez, president of the Hispanic Mega Church Association.

"Today, we have identified dozens and still counting. We have our own Rick Warrens and Joel Osteens. The names include Jim Tolle, Danny DeLeon, Eliezer Bonilla, Luis Rodriguez, Ruben Guajardo, Wilfredo De Jesus and many others."

I'll discuss what this will mean to American Christianity in part three of this series.

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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