When mentioned to the general public, the word “Pentecostalism” generates three diverse responses: confusion, mockery, and tolerance; some people never heard of the word, some people view it as being infamous, and the rest accept it. According to the Oxford dictionary, Pentecostalism “relates to any number of Christian sects emphasizing baptism in the Holy Spirit.” Misconceptions originated from the misunderstanding of the history of Pentecostalism, along with the notion that Pentecostalism is one sect when, in fact, there are many divisions. The largest of these is the teachings of Charismatic’s, which make up the most prevalent part of the denomination and have been the driving force for the assumptions and reputation that Pentecostalism has garnered. To truly understand Pentecostalism, one needs to learn the religions history, the standard beliefs of the various sects, and the contemporary changes that some followers have made in the recent years that have fueled the current fallacy about the belief system.
The history of Pentecostalism is widely disputed amongst historians; some believe that Pentecostalism began with Jesus’ disciple’s baptism in the Holy Spirit at the first Pentecost, while other historians argue that the religion itself dates as recent as the early ninety’s. In the historiographical essay, “Assessing the Roots of Pentecostalism,” Randall J. Stephens claims that the Pentecostal movement started in 1901 and the famous 1906 Los Angeles revival on Azusa Street helped the religion grow to currently contain approximately 420 million followers. The followers, being mostly lower and middle-class groups who were “multi-ethnic and often challenged racial norms” (Wilma Wells Davies 2), of the revival were unhappy with the growing wealth of the church and of the impiety of mainline denominations. The disapproval of religions that have dominating leaders and an emphasis on financial gain has always been a factor in the division of many religions up to this day. A strong disapprover of Pentecostalism, Robert Mapes Anderson, claims that the only reason for the growth in believers was that the social strain for the lower class was alleviated with the hope of the apocalyptic return of Jesus and the idea, originating from an unwillingness to personally investigate, that “speaking in tongues provided psychic escape through religious ecstasy” and that “Pentecostalism represented a dysfunctional and maladjusted reaction to social pressures.” Fervent followers, citing chapter two of the book of Acts in the Bible, believe that, “When the day of Pentecost came, they [Jesus’ followers] were all together in one place… All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.” It is possible to perceive that the faith system was formed on the day of the Pentecost, and the revival helped spread the religion in the United States. The brief time span between the nineteen hundred revivals and today is an explanation for the fact that the biggest modifications being done to the religion are controlled by the 21st century youth.
Pentecostals set a foundation of beliefs that are shared throughout the sects, but recently some aspects of the religion have led to disagreements and divisions in the denomination. Historian Donald Dayton believed that religion was based on four theological doctrines: salvation, healing, baptism of the Holy Spirit, and the second coming of Christ. Like all Christians, Pentecostals believe in salvation and the second coming of Christ; they believe that salvation comes through the repentance of one’s sins and the acceptance, by taking water baptism, of Jesus Christ as one’s savior who will have a second coming to bring faithful followers to heaven. Dayton’s allusion to “healing” is in terms of spiritual healing, where one understands that the sins that were repented are forgiven through the grace of God; the principle of whether the healed sinner is from then on “pure” or whether it is a life long of becoming chaste is disputed. The baptism of the Holy Spirit is what defines Pentecostalism when taken from the perspective of a believer; this element garners ridicule from outsiders mainly because of a general lack of knowledge about the supernatural phenomena.
The early nineteen hundred revivals were famous because they were centered on a “post-conversion” experience called “Spirit baptism.” There are many views from believers on the baptism that derive from the underlying belief that a gift of the “Spirit baptism” is given by the Holy Spirit; Grant Wacker, a prominent historian of Pentecostalism, states that “Pentecostals believe that a person who has been baptized in the Holy Spirit will manifest one or more of the nine spiritual gifts described in 1 Corinthians 12 and 14.” Like many other spiritual gifts, speaking in tongues, “a public proclamation of words in a spiritual language” (Anthony Stevens) is believed to be a form of giving glory to God while also having benefits to the believer; in “Pentecost 101,” found in Pentecostal Evangel, Dave Kidd states that “speaking tongues privately strengthens the person speaking, no one else.” Along with speaking in tongues, the general public scrutinizes the gift of prophecy, gift of healing, and the discerning of spirits. While the nonbelievers dispute the gifts, the followers work on sorting out other attributes of the religion. The main religions that converted to Pentecostalism are Methodists, Presbyterians, and Baptists. Thus various sects have formed over the years that display the spectrum of backgrounds that converts have come from.
Pentecostalism has expanded to include a wide variety of believers; though connected in their belief in the baptism in the Holy Spirit, they still differ in many ways. When defining oneself, a believer may use the book of Matthew (Chapter 28, verse 19); a popular separation of beliefs comes from the “Oneness” idea, shared amongst Unitarian Pentecostals, that Jesus represents “the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” versus the “Trinitarianism” idea that “In the unity of the Godhead there be three persons (personae), of one substance, power, and eternity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost” (Westminster Confession of Faith 1647). Another two prevalent sects of Pentecostalism include Wesleyan-perfectionism, and its counterpart Keswick-Reformed that stresses that the will of man is what enables a person to live a sanctified life, rather than baptism in the Spirit. Wesleyan-perfectionism, also known as entire sanctification, is a belief that, according to the leader John Wesley in his book “A Plain Account of Christian Perfectionism,” Christians could attain a degree of perfection through baptism in Spirit to be “perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect,” (12) while stressing that, “We willingly allow and continually declare, there is no such perfection in this life” (35). It is the reliance on Holy Spirit that helps believers become sanctified.
The mentioned sects of Pentecostalism do not conjure the same placid effect upon the listener as the word “Charismatic”; reactions from those who have dabbled in investigating the religion include telling the listener stories of seemingly possessed people rolling, running, or dancing around. Charismatics, followers of a recent division in the Pentecostal denomination usually led by young leaders that constantly have a “reformation” motto, are infamous for their worship style that has bewildered onlookers in the recent years and have drawn critics like Peter Masters in the book The Charismatic Phenomenon to state that “Charismatic practices loosen up the mind in such an unhealthy way that people will believe almost anything… able to take seriously such amazing ideas as Oral Roberst claim to have seen a vision of Jesus, 900 feet tall” (67). Through his book, Charismatic Chaos, John MacArthur, a world-renowned preacher, evaluates the Charismatic religion according to the Bible in order “to call the church to a firm commitment to the purity and authority of the Scriptures, and thereby to strengthen the unity of the true church.” Present Charismatic church’s exploit the gifts of the Holy Spirit and twist the words of the Bible to give the audience in their church’s reason to give money to the church. MacArthur points out that in terms of exploitation of the spiritual gift of healing, the healer is always portrayed as a hero, and any failed healing is blamed on the lack of faith on the seekers part (345). Prosperity gospel, a materialistic belief that one’s blessing is solely financial comfort and good health; in order to get such blessing, the follower’s obligation is to support the church, which has caused many believers of this gospel to become bankrupt. Church’s that have stayed away from the prosperity gospel no longer enforce Bible mandated rules in fear of losing members.
MacArthur analyzes beliefs and sermons held by extreme Charismatic’s and points out their faults. One of them is that Charismatic’s build up an “emotional high” for the church participants to convince the members that they are having a spiritual experience. It is this desire to emulate the conservative Pentecostal spiritual experience that leads them to perform absurd physical actions, such as running, dancing, or singing repetitively and continuously, interloping many songs at a time. Charismatic church’s use music to affect the members psychologically, giving them spiritual encounters that are controlled by the rhythm and volume of the music rather than the presence of God. This disillusionment in the most extreme churches causes members to roll around, pretend to be animals, and be willing to go in debt to uphold their preacher’s in hopes of emulating a spiritual experience and “worshipping” God.
According to the Bible, Hebrews 12:28 defines “worship” as an act that includes “reverence and godly fear” and the psalmist David states in Psalm 95:6 to “Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the LORD our Maker;” nowhere in the Bible does it portray worshipping as dancing, running, screaming, but, on the contrary, it is something to do in respect, as God is Holy. MacArthur, like other outsiders who only look at Charismatic’s for a universal representation of Pentecostals, begins to discredit the gift of speaking in tongues, yet, there are many Bible verses that support the gift as can be found in the comments written by Galyn Wiemer on MacArthur’s teaching on tongues. Conservative beliefs are being left behind in exchange for Charismatic services that serve as forms of entertainment in efforts to keep the youth interested in attending church.
Understanding Pentecostalism through its history helps one understand that while it was founded soon after the death of Jesus Christ, it was not until the late eighteen hundred’s that it started gaining popularity in the United States, serving an explanation for the constant variation’s in beliefs and values found amongst believers. There are standard beliefs that are accepted by all Pentecostals, like the baptism in water and the Spirit, yet there are contemporary changes that followers have made in the recent years. On account of researching Pentecostalism, I visited a welcoming Charismatic gathering and noticed that their service was controlled by music; a decrease in the volume of the guitar paralleled a decrease in the volume of prayer, and any pause on the instrumentalist part was mirrored in the gatherers. I myself am a conservative Pentecostal but never defined myself further; through this research I would fit under the Trinitarians belief and would closest relate to Wesleyan-perfectionists, sharing the belief that though perfectionism is not attainable, through the baptism of the Spirit, I can continually cleanse myself of sins through faith and the help of the Holy Spirit. Growing up as a Pentecostal, I have always relied on Jesus to lead me in my life and I share the fundamental belief that all Pentecostal’s hold, that “God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
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MacArthur, John. Charismatic Chaos. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Pub. House, 1992. Print.
Marshall, Howard I. “The Significance of Pentecost.” Scottish Journal of Theology 30.04 (1977): 347. Print.
Richardson, William E., and Dave Kidd. “Articles.” Pentecostal Evangel. General Council of the Assemblies of God. Web. 13 Nov. 2011.
Stephens, Randall J. “Assessing the Roots.” American Religious Experience at WVU. The American Religious Experience. Web. 13 Nov. 2011.
Wesley, John. A Plain Account of Christian Perfectionism. Boston: McDonald, Gill &, 1968. Print.