See HERE the first part of my response.
More disturbing then the comments which project a Ceuta larger than life are the ones which describe the Romanian Pentecostal Union (300.000 strong) as “mired in strict religious traditions that are based on faulty interpretations of Scripture”. I wonder whether this particular line was written by the author upon close inspection in situ or is simply a sound bite concocted by ever-resourceful pastor Ioan Ceuta.
While it is true that most Romanian Pentecostal churches hold one form or another of the traditions enumerated by Lee Grady, I think that these are hardly the defining features of the movement. Separation of men and women in church services is not based on any interpretation of Scripture (correct or faulty) but a remnant of the times when Pentecostals sought a certain propriety in their services. He who requires women to wear head coverings in church services is no other than Apostle Paul himself. I am willing to admit that the Bible says a few things which I do not like rather than claim that the Bible does not say what it says. Lee Grady can complain that Pentecostals are too eager to follow Paul’s injunction to the Corinthians, not that their interpretation is faulty. We can debate whether our modern situation is comparable to that in Corinth (and whether women are still bound to cover their heads in our worship services), but I have no patience with exegetes (or journalists) who try to make Paul say what he simply does not!
As for the issue of “forbidding women to attend church during their menstrual periods” I would like to know if this piece of information comes from pastors Lee Grady has interviewed. More interesting however would be the answer to the question: what precisely are the means by which Pentecostal pastors enforce in their churches this purported policy?
Of course, it is true that jewels are frowned upon in the Pentecostal movement. I agree that not wearing jewels is not the best sign of spirituality, but I equally fail to see why wearing them is necessarily the true sign of Christian liberation. To paraphrase Paul again, jewelry commends us not to God: for neither, if we wear them are we the better; neither, if we wear them not, are we the worse. If everything new that Ceuta’s church brings into the religious arena is the freedom to flaunt one’s jewels, we are talking about another form of conformism which only makes people disdain their “weaker” (i.e. less bejeweled) fellow Christians.
Again, how does one forbid the use of birth control? Pentecostal pastors embrace the full spectrum of opinions on this issue. Interpreting 1 Tim. 2:15 to mean that procreation and rearing of children are duties a woman should fulfill is by no means confined to Pentecostal circles. This is equally valid for Catholic and Orthodox churches.
In the matter of footwashing, Pentecostals in Romania are divided, even though they stand under the same denominational umbrella. We have agreed to disagree on this issue and, again, in theory and in practice, one encounters great diversity. On the whole I would say that this custom is very much in decline even in churches where they still practice it.
I would argue that in many respects Romanian Pentecostalism needs an aggiornamento. But not in the direction embraced by the likes of Mr. Ceuta. Isn’t it strange that American missionaries talk a lot about relevance and contextualization in transcultural missions and yet fail to note that Romania has an Eastern Orthodox ethos? At least for the past 1000 years Christianity has been practiced here in a way that should make the Evangelical churches be more sensitive to their Orthodox neighbours. I am the first to say that Romanians are sacramentalized, but not really evangelized. At the same time I firmly say that the way in which some churches seek to be relevant turns relevance upon its head and ends up in putting off potential seekers.
Mr. Ceuta is already past “running the risk” of losing his credibility. But that is not because he “courageously challenged” any of the alleged hollowed traditions mentioned by his American friend. When leaders lose their credibility, it is for entirely different reasons, the most important of which are shady dealings or cases of blatant dishonesty. When it was first revealed that 50 pages in Dr. Ceuta’s doctoral dissertation are crassly plagiarized (strangely enough, 30 of them are copied out of a textbook written by a Catholic scholar who was part of the evaluation committee which awarded him the degree), the author continued to “hold fast in his integrity”, perhaps because he had suddenly discovered the wisdom of the old adage which says that “Silence is golden”.
The fact that Ceuta allowed women to study at his university does him credit. The same door was later opened at the Pentecostal Theological College in Bucharest. I am in favour of admitting women to study theology and I think that on the whole they are more diligent than men in acquiring knowledge. But the issue is more complex. Where are these women theologians going to minister afterwards? Many young women who graduated have not found jobs suitable for their training and as a result have been forced to seek new degrees (spending another four years in college, with enormous costs). Has Mr. Ceuta ever undertaken a thorough sociological research on the involvement in ministry of women he graduated form his school? What is the percentage of those still in ministry? Giving women a diploma, but not an adequate context is like sending astronauts to the moon without adequate oxygen supplies.
I am puzzled by the triumphalistic tone of the last paragraphs. Is that all one can brag about in connection with one’s church? “Tossing out old Pentecostal traditions” and “wearing jewelry”? I pity those pastors who have no other mark of distinction apart from “contemporary worship” and wearing the pearl of great price around their necks rather than in their hearts.