PENTECOSTALS

PENTECOSTALS

The 20th-century Pentecostal movement affirms a post-conversion work of the Holy Spirit.* This work is designated baptism in the Spirit, generally understood as empowerment for mission* and ministry,* and is said to represent the restoration of the spiritual gifts listed in 1 Cor. 12:8-10 (see charism(ata) ). Of these gifts, speaking in tongues has particular significance for most Pentecostals as the initial evidence of baptism in the Spirit.

First-generation Pentecostals saw the Pentecostal movement as a revival with distinctive characteristics. It was the latter rain, a downpour of Holy Spirit in the last days before the parousia, comparable in power only to the spring rain of the New Testament church. It was the full gospel, completing the restoration of the gospel established by the Reformation and furthered by Wesleyan sanctification.* It was the “foursquare gospel”, manifesting Jesus as Saviour, Healer, Baptizer in the Holy Spirit, and Coming King. It was the apostolic faith, identical with the supernatural faith of the first Christians. It was Pentecostal, because in baptism in the Spirit each believer experiences a personal Pentecost, with God restoring the divine endowments of the church poured out at Pentecost* but lost through later apostasy and unbelief. These terms have influenced the name of many Pentecostal denominations.

Most Pentecostal histories hold that the Pentecostal movement stems from the ministry of Charles Parham, around 1900-1901 in the US; he first linked baptism in the Spirit with glossolalia. The movement’s explosion beyond a local Holiness revival in Kansas and Texas resulted from the multiracial Azusa Street revival in Los Angeles, 1906-1909, under the black pastor William J. Seymour. Further impetus came from Parham’s mission in Zion City, Illinois, in late 1906. Within two years of the Azusa Street outbreak, the Pentecostal movement had centres throughout the US, in many northern European countries, in India and China, and in West and South Africa. The following years saw its establishment in Latin America, especially in Brazil and Chile, and more missions in Africa and Asia.

The Pentecostal movement initially had a strong eschatological orientation (see eschatology ). It emphasized that Pentecost had to be preached throughout the world before the imminent return of the Lord. Many Evangelicals denounced the Pentecostal movement for unbridled emotionalism, spiritual deception and the subordination of scripture to experience. Strongest opposition was from among Holiness groups. They had been a matrix for Pentecostal concepts and provided most Pentecostal recruits in North America and Europe.

Despite this Evangelical rejection, the Pentecostal movement in America and Europe adopted conservative Evangelical doctrine, pre-millennial eschatology and a fundamentalist approach to biblical exegesis. In the USA this process was cemented by white Pentecostal membership in the National Association of Evangelicals, from its founding in 1943.

The Pentecostal movement’s rapid spread led to the formation of Pentecostal denominations and independent ministries. We can distinguish four categories: (1) Holiness churches which add baptism in the Spirit as a third blessing after regeneration and sanctification, e.g. the black Church of God in Christ (1907), the Church of God of Cleveland, Tennessee (1907) and the Pentecostal Holiness Church (1911); (2) two-stage Pentecostals, mostly from a Reformed background, who profess baptism in the Spirit as a “second blessing”, e.g. the Assemblies of God (1914), the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada (1919); (3) the Oneness Church, which rejects the Trinity,* affirms a modalist Christology, and baptizes only in Jesus’ name, e.g. the United Pentecostal Church (origins in 1914, formed in 1945); and (4) churches which restore the offices of apostle and prophet on the basis of Eph. 4:11, e.g. the Apostolic Church (1918).

Other major figures in the Pentecostal movement were Lewi Pethrus of Sweden, who strongly defended the autonomy of each assembly; Smith Wigglesworth, an itinerant British evangelist; Aimee Semple McPherson, American evangelist; Donald Gee, British educator; and Nicholas Bhengu, an African prophet. Missionary heroes include the American Lillian Trasher in Egypt, the Swedes Daniel Berg and Gunnar Vingren in Brazil, the Canadian C. Austin Chawner in Mozambique, and the English William Burton and James Salter in the Congo.

The Pentecostal movement has flourished among the poor and uneducated (hence the title of R.M. Anderson’s study Vision of the Disinherited ). It appeals through its oral-gestural character, involving less conceptual forms of communication, such as hand-clapping, raised arms, dance, visions, dreams and prophecy, and through its participatory patterns, which characterize especially the earliest phases of the movement. Consequently, Pentecostal churches begin as bodies of fervent believers who exalt spiritual experience and wisdom over formal education. Bible colleges and educational institutions have followed only in the third and fourth generations.

The Pentecostal movement has spread rapidly in the third world, faster in the indigenous churches than in those controlled by foreign mission boards. In Latin America, Pentecostals now account for 80% of the Protestants, far outstripping the numbers in older Protestant missions and churches. Worldwide Pentecostals now number more than 150 million Christians. The largest family of churches is the Assemblies of God.*

The first Pentecostal world conference* was held at Zurich in 1947, the second in Paris in 1949. These early conferences saw fierce opposition to attempts to form a representative body that could speak for the entire Pentecostal movement. Now held every three years, they are largely celebratory occasions which centre on worship, testimonies and inspirational preaching, without any forum for public debate.

Pentecostals have generally been hostile to the ecumenical movement, which they perceive as embracing the apostate and stigmatize as merely human efforts to organize institutional unity. This opposition has been less marked in the third world, with two Chilean Pentecostal churches joining the WCC in 1961, followed in 1969 by the larger “O Brasil para Cristo” church of Manoel de Mello. The vision of baptism in the Spirit promoting Christian unity inspired some early Pentecostals. It had been kept alive especially by David Du Plessis (d.1987; see charism(ata) ). He attended all the WCC assemblies from Evanston to Vancouver and laboured to gain official denominational support for the international Pentecostal Roman Catholic dialogue.* An international Reformed-Pentecostal dialogue took place between 1996 and 2000 leading to a report “Word and Spirit, Church and World”.

Local theological dialogues involving Pentecostals have taken place in Finland, the Netherlands and South Africa. Some American Pentecostal scholars have participated in the Faith and Order* study on the apostolic faith and reflect those more open attitudes which are developing within the Society for Pentecostal Studies, formed in 1971. The Pentecostal movement today faces the dilemma of how to be less sectarian without becoming too cerebral and thus losing its power and appeal.

 

PETER HOCKEN

n S.M. Burgess & G.B. McGee eds, Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements , Grand Rapids MI, Zondervan, 1996 n H. Cox, Fire from Heaven: The Rise of Pentecostal Spirituality and the Reshaping of Religion in the Twenty-First Century , London, Cassell, 1996 n D. Dayton, Theological Roots of Pentecostalism , Metuchen NJ, Scarecrow, 1987 n W.J. Hollenweger, Pentecostalism , Peabody MA, Hendrickson, 1997 n W.J. Hollenweger, The Pentecostals , Minneapolis, Augsburg, 1972 n OC , 23, 1-2, 1987 n C.M. Robeck, A Collection of Pentecostal Writings on Ecumenical Issues , Pasadena CA, Robeck, 2000 n C.M. Robeck, “Pentecostals and Ecumenism in a Pluralistic World”, in The Globalization of Pentecostalism , M. Dampster et al. eds, Oxford, Regnum, 1999.

The text above is extracted from “ Dictionary of the Ecumenical Movement ” 2 nd Edition , published by World Council of Churches (courtesy of World Council of Churches)

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