THE BEGINNING OF PENTECOSTALISM IN INDONESIA

By Gani Wiyono


Its Origin

It is difficult to give an accurate date for when Pentecostalism entered Indonesia, for very little data (especially written material) is available. However, it seems that Pentecostalism was present in this archipelago as early as 1910. Gerrit R. Polman, an early leader of Dutch Pentecostalism had been mailing Spade Regen to the Dutch Indies (the former name of Indonesia) since 1909[1]. This bulletin seems to have greatly influenced Dutch descendants who settled at Temanggung, Central Java. As a result, an ecumenical prayer meeting that had Pentecostal nuances was established in 1911. Among those who were actively involved in that ecumenical prayer meeting were H.E. Horstman of Gereformeerd, Weirs of Hervormd, and Van Abkoude who later became key figures in the early years of Pentecostalism in Indonesia.[2]

 

Dutch-based Missionary Works

In September 1920, in Spade Regen, Polman published a request from believers in Java to send Pentecostal missionaries to Java.[3] Among those who responded to this call were Johannes G. Thiessen, Williem Bernard and his wife, Marie H, Blekkink, a sister of Mrs. Polman, and Mina Hansen.[4] Thiessen returned to Java in 1921[5] while Bernard, Blekking, and Hansen left for Java in August 1922.

 

Johannes Gerhard Thiessen

Johannes G. Thiessen was born on 22 November 1869 in Kitchkas, Ukraina and was raised in a Mennonite family. At 19 years of age (1888), he received a divine call to do missionary work in Sumatra. Six years later, as a response to that call, Thiessen studied theology at St. Chrischonna Seminary in Switzerland. He then enrolled in a short medical training in Rotterdam, before going to Pekantan, North Sumatra (1901), as a Doopgezinde Kerk (Mennonite) missionary. Thiessen and his wife, Anna Maria Vink, stayed and ministered among the Batak people from 1901 until 1912. During his first furlough, Thiessen experienced “Pentecostal blessings” (the baptism in the Holy Spirit) in Basel, Switzerland. He then was influenced by some key figures in early European Pentecostalism such as Jonathan Paul of Germany and Gerrit R. Polman of Holland.[6]

In 1920 Thiessen participated in the founding of the Dutch Pentecostal Missionary Society and became its vice-president. A year later, he returned to the Dutch East-Indies, not as a Doopgezinde Kerk missionary, but as a Pentecostal missionary.[7]

Most of Thiessen’s work was in Bandung. At first he rented a law court to conduct Pentecostal meetings during the evening and on Sunday morning. Many were attracted to those meetings which were often accompanied with healings and miracles. In a short time, the hall became too crowded. Fortunately, Sister Kuillenberg, one of Thiessen’s early converts, donated her own property in Litsonlaan, and a church building, named “Bethel”, was founded on that land. This church, which was later known as the first De Pinksterbeweging or Gereja Gerakan Pentakosta (Indonesia Pentecostal Movement Church), could accommodate more than 300 people. From here, Thiessen and his sons spread Pentecostalism in West Java and other cities in Indonesia.[8]

 

William Bernard, Marie Blekkink and Mina Hansen

Unlike Thiessen who chose to go to Bandung, Bernard, Blekking, and Hansen settled in Temanggung, Central Java where they worked with H.E. Horstman. In 1924, together with Groesbeek, Van Klaveren, Van Gessels, and others, Bernard, Blekking and Hansen founded De Pinkstergemeente in Nederlandsch-Indie or the Pentecostal Church in the Dutch East Indies. Bernard and Blekking also edited De Pinksterbode, a paper published by De Pinkstergemeente. Due to illness, Bernard and Blekking had to leave Java in 1925, while Mina Hansen remained to carry on the work. Later, Mina Hansen married F.A. Abell and worked together with Margareth Alt, one of the early prominent Pentecostal leaders who was converted from Seventh-Day Baptist in 1926.[9]

 

American-Based Missionary Works

A tent revival meeting was conducted in 1919 in Green Lake, Seattle, USA. Among those who attended that meeting and received the baptism in the Holy Spirit were two officers in the Salvation Army, Richard van Klaverens and Cornelis Groesbeeks. A year later, through a vision, they received a calling to pioneer a work in Java. They shared this vision with W.H. Offiler,[10] a pastor of Bethel Temple, an independent Pentecostal church in Seattle, who then agreed to provide financial support for them.[11]

After months of raising funds, they were short US $ 500.00 of the needed US $ 2,200.00. Fortunately, there was unexpected financial help from Emily Malquist, a young woman who experienced divine healing in her life. She was scheduled to undergo major surgery to remove a cancerous tumor, but it was canceled when 8.25 pounds of tumor fell to the floor. Having examined Emily again, her physician confirmed that she was totally healed. Prior to this amazing experience, Emily attended a service in Bethel Temple where W.H. Offiler prayed for her healing. Thus, the US $ 500.00 that had been needed for the surgery was given to Offiler as an offering to be used to send the missionaries to Java.[12]

On January 4, 1921, the Groesbeek and Van Klaveren families left Seattle and arrived in Jakarta on February 23, 1921. After spending several days in Jakarta, they then moved to Denpasar, Bali, where they rented a very old and simple building that had been used as a copra warehouse. This building functioned as both housing for the Groesbeeks and Klaverens and as a meeting hall for their evangelistic effort.

The Groesbeeks and Klaverens were not able to speak Balinese so they employed a Dutch speaking, Balinese man to interpret for them. They emphasized Jesus as the healer in their preaching. This strange emphasis drew many Balinese to their evangelistic meetings. The sick were brought to the services and many experienced miraculous healings. One of those who received divine healing was the daughter of a Balinese prince who was instantaneously healed from severe head pain after Klaveren and Groesbeek prayed for her.

Unfortunately, Groesbeek and Klaveren’s ministries had to cease when the government of the Dutch East Indies commanded them to leave Bali. The reason behind this expulsion was that they were considered to purposely violate the government’s religious policy.[13] They then relocated to Surabaya, a large city situated in the northeast coast of Java in December 1922.

After being together for a while in Surabaya, the Klaverens moved to Lawang, and then pioneered a work in Jakarta. Meanwhile the Groesbeeks preached the Pentecostal message to those who attended a weekly meeting in the home of Van Gessels, an employee of the Dutch oil company, in Cepu.[14]

After a short period of time, Groesbeek was able to disciple Van Gessels, S.I.P. Luimondong, Hornung, and, A.E. Siwi who later became the prominent leaders in the early years of Pentecostalism in Indonesia. Toward to the end of 1923, Groesbeek handed over the leadership of the Cepu Congregation to Van Gessel, moved to East Java and pioneered a work in Tunjungan, Surabaya.[15]

Success

Bandung, Temanggung, Cepu, and Surabaya stand high in the brief history of the Pentecostal movement in Indonesia, for from those places Pentecostalism was disseminated throughout the archipelago that had been previously influenced by Christianity. From Temanggung, the Pentecostal message was propagated primarily on the island of Java;[16] from Bandung, the Pentecostal message was carried to different parts of West Java (Cimahi, Jakarta, Bogor, Sukabumi, Cirebon, and Depok) and Central Java (Semarang, Cilacap, Purworejo and Yogyakarta);[17] from Cepu and Surabaya, Pentecostal evangelists planted churches in East Java, Sangir Talaud, South, North, Central, and South East Sulawesi, Lampung, North and South Sumatra, Nias, Riau, West Timor, East, West, and South Kalimantan, Mollucas and Irian Jaya.[18]

The Pentecostal message however was not propagated only from these places. Other American Pentecostal evangelists, who were not directly tied to Pentecostal congregations in Temanggung, Bandung, Cepu, and Surabaya, began to participate in the founding of Pentecostal congregations in Indonesia. Kenneth Short followed by Raymond Busby, Ralph M. Devin, and other American Assemblies of God missionaries established Gereja-gereja Sidang Jemaat Allah (the Assemblies of God of Indonesia) in the Mollucas, North Sumatra, Jakarta, Bogor, Minahasa, Kalimantan and other parts of Indonesia. William Arnold Parson and Eugene Loving of the Pentecostal Church of God in America started Pentecostal congregations that later became Gereja Pentekosta Missi di Indonesia (Pentecostal Mission Church in Indonesia) in Ternate, Halmahera, Bacan, and some other islands in Moluccas.[19]

With such a quick spread geographically, Pentecostalism had grown significantly in number. It is no wonder that Van den End, a church historian who wrote the history of Indonesian churches, considers that the most fruitful evangelistic activities in Indonesia in the twentieth century were done by Pentecostals.[20] The following are several factors that most likely account for the early success of the Pentecostal movement in Indonesia.

 

“The Field Was Ready”

When Pentecostal evangelists spread their Pentecostal message throughout Indonesia, almost all infrastructures for an effective communication of the Gospel (such as, railway, road, telephone and telegraph facilities) was perfectly available.[21] The Bible had already been translated into several major dialects. Many people, especially those living in the cities, had been freed from illiteracy resulting in an increasing degree of receptivity to new ideas. The most important factor, however, was the fact that Bahasa Melayu had become a lingua franca in the cities. Thus, Pentecostal evangelists who worked for the most part in the cities did not need to spend time and energy to learn the local dialects.[22]

 

Aggressive in Mission

Even until today, Pentecostals have been well known for their zeal to “convert” people (both from Christian and non-Christian backgrounds) to their groups. Consequently, they generally disregarded the traditional boundaries of comity long established by mission agencies of Europe. This meant that they were not reluctant to start a Pentecostal congregation even in the places where other Protestant denominational churches had already been established.[23]

 

The Strong Influence of Pietism on Indonesian Christianity

As Leonard Halle showed, Pietism had a significant influence on the formation of Indonesian Christianity.[24] Since several aspects of Pietistic spirituality, such as an emphasis on otherworldliness, individual experience, and biblical authority, had many affinities with Pentecostal spirituality,[25] the presentation of Pentecostalism to Indonesian Christians did not face a serious problem. Thus, extensive receptivity to Pentecostalism among Indonesian Christians was a matter of time.

 

The Cultural Worldview of Indonesians

Culturally, Indonesians can relate to a supernatural worldview in which spirits exercise significant influence over humans causing illness, misfortune, and demonic bondage. Therefore, the Pentecostal message and practices that boldly declared the victory of God over the power of darkness became attractive to many Indonesians, both believers (non-Pentecostal Christians) and unbelievers (Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, or Animists).

 

The “Layman’s Churches”

The wider opportunity given to layman to become involved in ministry (inside and outside the church) attracted many to join the Pentecostal movement. According to Johannes Verkuyl, such a democratization of ministry that was rarely available in non-Pentecostal churches was one of the key factors for early Pentecostal success.[26]

 

Organization and Divisions

In the early years of the Pentecostal movement in Indonesia, there was good cooperation among Pentecostal groups represented by the Temanggung, Bandung, Surabaya and Cepu connections. In 1923, such cooperation was institutionalized by forming Vereeniging De Pinkstergemeente in Nederlandsch Oost Indie. A body consisting of the older, more experienced ministers, called the Pinkster Convent governed this organization.[27] A year later, on June 4, 1924, this organization was officially registered with the Dutch East Indies government under the name De Pinkstergemeente in Nederlandsch Indie. The chairman of this organization was F.G. Van Gessel of Cepu. On June 3, 1937 this organization was officially acknowledged by the government as Kerkgenootschap (an ecclesiastical society with the right to receive members, to ordain clergy, etc.).[28]

Unfortunately, prior to that governmental acknowledgement the first division had occurred, because of disagreement over two central issues: First, was the baptismal formula that concluded with the statement “… in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, namely Jesus Christ,” which undoubtedly reflected a unitarian tendency. Second was the role of women in ministry. Under the influence of W.H. Offiler, Van Gessels the chairman of Pinkstergemeente forbade women leadership in the church. Feeling uncomfortable with this unitarian tendency and restriction, Margareth Alt resigned from Pinkstergemeente in 1931, and started a new church called Pinkster Zending which later became Gereja Utusan Pentekosta (Indonesian Pentecostal Mission Church).[29]

For the same reason, Van Abkoude (1931) and Johann Thiessen (1932) decided to step down from Pinkster Gemeente and they also formed new churches. Van Abkoude formed Gemeente van God which later joined with the Assemblies of God of Indonesia, or the GSJA; Thiessen formed Pinksterbeweging which later became Gereja Gerakan Pentakosta (Indonesian Pentecostal Movement Church).[30]

In 1941 another split took place. D. Sinaga, one of the early Pentecostal leaders in Batak, North Sumatra considered the prohibition of eating blood issued by the organization was a stumbling block for Bataks who wanted to be Pentecostals, because the Christian churches that had previously been present in Batak region, allowed their followers to eat blood. In order to eliminate this stumbling block, D. Sinaga pulled out of De Pinkstergemeente and formed GPDI-Sinaga or Indonesia Pentecostal Churches (Sinaga).[31]

After the end of World War II, more divisions occurred. Tan Hok Tjwan (1946) resigned from GPDI and formed Gereja Isa Almasih (the Church of Jesus Christ) as he wanted more freedom to work in an organized manner. Renatus and Lukas Siburian (1948) left GPDI (Indonesia Pentecostal Churches) and formed GPDI-Siburian (Indonesia Pentecostal Churches (Siburian)) because of a dispute over the cultural issue of eating blood. Van Gessels (1952), prompted by a desire to be independent, moved out of GPDI and established a new church, called Gereja Bethel Injil Sepenuh (Bethel Full-Gospel Church) which, later divided into several different Pentecostal denominations.[32]

 

Summary

The two words, “success” and “fragmentation” may best characterize the beginning of Pentecostalism in Indonesia. In the following years, these two words have still been dominant in the development of Pentecostalism in Indonesia. This can be clearly seen in the statistics. Barret, Johnsons, and Kurian note that the adherents of Pentecostalism in Indonesia have grown at a phenomenal rate in the last thirty years.[33] At the same time, however, Pentecostal denominations and organizations have also grown in number.[34] Ukur, Cooley, and Aritonang agree that this numerical growth is mainly due to repeated schisms.[35] Among the Pentecostal denominations and organizations in Indonesia, only three have not yet experienced a significant schism: Gereja Isa Almasih (The Church of Jesus Christ), Gereja Utusan Pentekosta (the Indonesian Pentecostal Mission Church), and Gereja Sidang-sidang Jemaat Allah (the Assemblies of God in Indonesia).[36]

 


FOOTNOTES:

[1]Cornelis van der Laan, Sectarian Against His Will: Gerrit Roelof Polman and the Birth of Pentecostalism in the Netherland (Metuchen, N.J., and London: The Scarecrow Press, 1991), 186.; Cf. M. Tapilatu, “Gereja-gereja Pentakosta di Indonesia: Suatu Tinjauan tentang Sejarah, Organisasi. Ibadah, Kegiatan, Ajaran dan Sikap Terhadap Gereja-gereja Lain,” (Th.M Thesis. Jakarta Advanced School of Theology, Jakarta, 1982), 18.

[2] ________,“Api Tuhan di Indonesia: Sejarah Masuk dan Berkembangnya Gerakan Pentakosta di Indonesia,” Tiberias II/6 (n.d.): 32-33.

[3]Van der Laan, 186,

[4]Ibid., 186, 198.

[5]Ibid., 186.

[6]Ibid., 186; _______. “Lintasan Sejarah: Gereja gerakan Pentakosta di Indonesia,” (n.d), 10-11.

[7] Van der Laan, 186.

[8]“Lintasan Sejarah: Gereja gerakan Pentakosta di Indonesia,” 11-12.

[9]Van der Laan, 187, 198.

[10]William Henry Offiler was born in Nottingham, England in 1875. Before embracing Pentecostalism, he was an Anglican. He spoke of the Azusa Street “as one having been there. He was friends of Charles Mason of the Church of God in Christ and Smith Wigglesworth. These two prominent figures in the early days of Pentecostalism visited him at Bethel Temple in Seattle on occasion. During “the Jesus Only Controversy” Offiler took the “Sabellianist” position, believing that the Father, the Son, and the Spirit were merely titles of God, not persons of God. Under Offiler’s leadership, Bethel Temple became a mission-oriented church. This local church eventually sent missionaries to Indonesia, China, Japan, South America, and many other countries. For detailed description of the life, ministry, and theology of W.H. Offiler, see Paul R. Berube, “The Emergence and Development of A New Breed of Classical Pentecostal”(M.A. Thesis, School of Theology, Oral Roberts University, 1983).

[11]Nicky J. Sumual, Pantekosta Indonesia Suatu Sejarah, (n.p., n.d), 44.

[12]Ibid., 44-46.; Theopilus Karunia Djaja, Sejarah Gereja Pantekosta di Indonesia, (n.p., n.d.) 14.

[13]Following the murder of a Dutch missionary, J. de Vroom (1881), The Dutch East Indies Government banned Christian mission in Bali. The door was open again on August 21, 1930 when Tsang Kam Foek was granted permission to work as a missionary among the Chinese population in Bali.   For details, see Chris Sugden, Seeking the Asian Face of Jesus: The Practice and Theology of Christian Social Witness in Indonesia and India 1974-1996 (Oxford, UK: Regnum Books International, 1997), 44-47.

[14] Sumual, 44-53; Karunia Djaja, 13-15.

[15] Sumual, 57.

[16] Th. Van den End and J. Weitjens, Ragi Carita 2: Sejarah Gereja di Indonesia 1860-an-Sekarang (Jakarta: BPK Gunung Mulia, 1999), 272.

[17]_________., Sejarah Gereja-Gereja Pantekosta di Indonesia, (unpublished paper), 9

[18] Sumual, 76-77, Karunia Djaya, 38-44.

[19] See Josemus Manyira, “Sejarah dan Perkembangan Gereja Kalvari Pentakosta Misi Betlehem Ternate,” (B.Th. Thesis., Satyabhakti Advanced School of Theology, Malang, 2001), for the details.

[20] Van den End and Weitjens, 278.

[21]See Sartono Kartodirdjo, “Latar Belakang Sosio-kultural Dunia Kanak-kanak and Masa Muda Bung Karno,” (http://www.kompas.com/kompas-cetak/0106/01/Soekarno/lata50.htm) (Search: July 20, 2001). Kartodirjo explains that in the beginning of the twentieth century, Indonesia, especially Java, had undergone a massive political, social, and economical transformation as a result of modernization, promoted by the Dutch East Indies Government.   This positive change could not have happened if the Dutch Government had not been compelled to improve the quality of life for the people whom they had colonized for more than 200 years.

[22]Van den End and Weitjens, 276.

[23]Van den End and Weitjens, 275.; _______,“A History of Pentecostal Movement in Indonesia,” AJPS (January 2001): 148.

[24] See Leonard Halle, Jujur Terhadap Pietisme: Menilai Kembali Reputasi Pietisme pada Gereja-gereja di Indonesia (Jakarta: BPK Gunung Mulia, 1993), especially chapter 3.

[25]See, Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movement, 1988 ed. s.v. “ Spirituality, Pentecostal and Charismatic,” by Russell P. Spittler.

[26]Johannes Verkuyl, Geredja dan Bidat-bidat (Jakarta: BPK Gunung Mulia, 1962), 61.

[27]The first convent consisted of Van Gessel (Surabaya), Weenink van Loon (Bandung), Van Abkoude (Yogyakarta), Van Klaveren (Jakarta), Hostman (Malang), and Margareth van Alt (Waru, Surabaya). See Karunia Djaja, 16.

[28]Fridolin Ukur and Frank Cooley, Jerih dan Juang: Laporan nasional Survey Menyelurh Gereja di Indonesia (Jakarta: Lembaga Penelitian dan Studi DGI, 1979), 111.; Karunia Djaja, 16-17;

[29]Ukur and Cooley, 111; Karunia Djaja, 16-17.

[30]Ukur and Cooley, 111; “A History of the Pentecostal Movement in Indonesia,” AJPS 4/1 (2001): 343.

[31]“A History of the Pentecostal Movement in Indonesia,” AJPS 4/1 (2001): 343-44; Van den End, and Witjens, 273.

[32]Ibid., 344.; Ukur and Cooley, 111.; Van den End and Witjens, 273-74.

[33]David B. Barrett, George T. Kurian, and Todd M. Johnson (eds), World Christian Encyclopedia: A Comparative Survey of Churches and Religion in the Modern World. 2nd ed. 2 vols. (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2001), I: 372. provides a numerical growth of Pentecostalism in Indonesia during the last century.

1900             –                            0

1970            –            3,590,000

1990            –             7,860,000

1995            –             8,687,592

2000            –             9,450,000

[34]In 1979, Ukur and Cooley, 108-10, listed 43 Pentecostal denominations and organizations which were present in Indonesia. Fifteen years later, Jan S. Aritonang, Berbagai Aliran Di dalam dan Di sekitar Gereja (Jakarta: BPK Gunung Mulia, 1995),183, relying on the data given by the Department of Religion in Indonesia, stated that there were at least 100 Pentecostal denominations in Indonesia.

[35]Ukur and Cooley,111-13; Aritonang, 183

[36]Ukur and Cooley, 113.

 

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