Aboriginal Pentecostalism

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The issue of Liturgy dealing with “Pentecostal Worship,” guest-edited by L. Edward Phillips and Tanya Riches, looks at many aspects of this Holy Spirit-led faith expression. Excerpted here is Tanya Riches’ examination of Aboriginal Pentecostal practice from the Ganggalah Church in Australia. –– Melinda Quivik

Many scholars today see the Pentecostal–charismatic movement as moving in waves, thus adhering to Alan Anderson’s definition of “Pentecostalism(s)” as “churches with a family resemblance that emphasize the working of the Holy Spirit, sharing common experience of the Spirit and practice of spiritual gifts.” This article focuses upon the emerging and lesser known non-Western fourth wave, or neo-Pentecostals, that negotiate the universalizing or homogenizing influence of global Pentecostal liturgy within their own local or Indigenous cultural space.

The theological underpinning for this exploration is the core Pentecostal belief that God’s Spirit is revealed within all cultures at all times. God leaves a witness in every context (as Paul declares in Acts 14:16–17), which is the precedent for God’s revelation through Indigenous cultural frames. More particularly, this article focuses on ways the Spirit is experienced in Ganggalah Church, an urban Aboriginal-led Pentecostal congregation in Australia, noting the postcolonial complexities in how worshipers conceive and construct their experience of the Spirit. This congregation will provide the case study for a distinctively Pentecostal use of the Nairobi Statement on Worship and Culture, produced by the Lutheran World Federation in 1996, which identifies the four dynamics of Christian worship as transcultural, contextual, counter-cultural, and cross-cultural. . .

Pentecostal worshipers together attend to God; they distinguish the divine Spirit (of Christ) from human and other spirits. When Pentecostal worshipers describe elements of the liturgy as “anointed,” they invoke a particular signifier that carries a deep worth in expressing the felt presence of God. However, any mention of the pneumatological imagination in worship requires careful discernment. This is illustrated by Willie Jennings’ critique of the Christian imagination as infused with colonialism or hierarchies of race. Jennings points out that Christianity often underplays local or contextual identities, overwriting them with global or universal symbols. He argues that this has wrenched Indigenous identity from its spatial orientation or place-centered morality. In this vein, Yong acknowledges that global Pentecostalism sometimes ignores its context. Although not usually intentional, this occurs both through the content and form of worship.

It remains an open question whether the pneumatological imagination (particularly as practiced by globally indigenous Pentecostals) can redress the colonial biases found within the larger church. Such tensions place the gatherings of Indigenous or fourth wavePentecostal–charismatics (who actively negotiate local and global influences within their ordinary lives) at the forefront of this discussion.

One of these groups is Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, who have a history of displacement from land and a history of “the stolen generations.” Although Aboriginal leaders have now been theoretically released from assimilation policies to champion self-determination, all major Australian denominations emphasize Western ideals, often transferred implicitly within cultural production. For example, Australian churches exhibit preference for Anglo-American evangelical teaching styles and for certain popular genres of Christian music. . .

What remains to be shown is how Australia’s Indigenous peoples, as distinct from Australian missiologists, creatively respond to Europeanization by inculturating the liturgy and how closely this process resembles the liturgical ideals presented by the Nairobi Statement.


Tanya Riches’ full essay in Liturgy 33, no. 3 is available by personal subscription and through many libraries.

Tanya Riches lectures at Hillsong College, Sydney, Australia, and is a researcher at the Centre for Disability Studies, an affiliate center of The University of Sydney. She co-edited The Hillsong Movement Examined (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017).

Tanya Riches, “Liturgical Inculturation in Urban Aboriginal Pentecostalism,” Liturgy 33, no. 3 (2018): 54-62.

David Turnbloom