David Johannes du Plessis was an international Pentecostal and ecumenical leader. Born near Cape Town, South Africa, and converted in 1916, du Plessis attended Grey University in Bloemfontein. Rising in the ranks of the Apostolic Faith Mission (a Pentecostal denomination in South Africa), he served as general secretary (1932-1947) until his selection as organizing secretary of the newly formed Pentecostal World Conference (1947).
In 1948, du Plessis moved with his wife and family to the United States, where he traveled widely in Pentecostal circles and later joined the Assemblies of God (AG) (1955). In 1951, he visited the offices of the World Council of Churches (WCC) in New York City and found a warm welcome. Through his friendship with John Mackay, president of Princeton Theological Seminary, he met other ecumenical leaders. Du Plessis subsequently addressed the International Missionary Council (IMC) meeting at Willingen, Germany, in 1952, attended the first six WCC assemblies, and lectured on Pentecostalism at influential theological centers in the United States and Europe.
With his significant involvement in the emergence of the charismatic movement (1960-), du Plessis forged relationships between Pentecostals, charismatics, conciliar Protestants, and Roman Catholics, earning him the title “Mr. Pentecost.” An observer at the third session of Vatican II (1963-1965), he was also received by three pontiffs during his lifetime (John XXIII, Paul VI, and John Paul II). With Fr. Kilian McDonnell, OSB, du Plessis inaugurated the International Roman Catholic-Pentecostal Dialogue, serving as first Pentecostal co-chair (1972-1982). Numerous honors accorded him included the Pax Christi award in 1976 from St. John’s University, Minnesota, and the Benemerenti award in 1983 from John Paul II; he was the first non-Roman Catholic to be so honored.
At a time when Pentecostal denominations were identifying ever more closely with conservative evangelicals du Plessis inspired Pentecostals to look and minister beyond narrow confessional and organizational confines and recognize that the renewal of the Holy Spirit represented an ecumenical grace in all the churches. Due to perceptions that he officially represented the AG, he was criticized by NAE leaders for his relations with the WCC and NCC leaders and had to surrender his AG ministerial credentials in 1962; his reinstatement came in 1980.
Gary B. McGee
David J. du Plessis, The Spirit Bade Me Go (rev. 1970), Simple and Profound (1986), and, with Bob Slosser, A Man Called Me Precost: David du Plessis (1977). Martin Robinson. “To the Ends of the Earth: The Pilgrimage of an Ecumenical Pentecostal, David J. du Plessis (1905-1987)” (Ph.D. diss., Univ. of Birmingham, England, 1987). For his participation in the Roman Catholic-Pentecostal Dialogue, see Arnold Bittlinger, Papst und Pfingstler: Der romisch katholisch-Pfingstliche Dialog und seine ou menische Relevanz (1978); Jerry L. Sandidge. Roman Catholic Pentecostal Dialog (1977-1982); A Study in Developing Ecumenism (1987). See also Edith L. Blumhofer, Restoring the Faith: The Assemblies of God, Pentecostalism, and American Culture (1993). The papers of David J. du Plessis are held at Fuller Theological Seminary Pasadena, Calif.
This article is reproduced, with permission, from Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, copyright © 1998, by Gerald H. Anderson, W. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan. All rights reserved.