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Pentecostalism

By Dr. Richard P. Bucher

Demographics

In the United States, there are approximately 12.3 million Pentecostals and Neo-Pentecostals in 24 different denominations or associations. This number does not include the millions of members within mainline denominations, often called “Neo-Pentecostals” or “charismatics,” i.e., who hold to the chief teaching of Pentecostalism: Baptism in the Holy Spirit as evidenced by speaking in tongues.

Origin/History

Pentecostal historians usually date the beginning of Pentecostalism to the experience of two key figures at the turn of the Twentieth Century. Charles Fox Parnham (1873-1929), the founder of Bethel Bible College in Topeka, Kansas, became convinced from his study of Paul’s letters that the gifts of the Holy Spirit (especially the speaking in tongues) were available to Christians of his day also. The first incident of such tongues-speaking happened at Bethel Bible in 1901. In April, 1906, one of Parnham’s former students, W. J. Seymour, who was preaching in Los Angeles became a catalyst for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit. As he was preaching at a Methodist Church on Azusa Street on the need for every Christian to have a personal Pentecost experience (as it happened to the 120 believers in Acts 2:1-4), many in attendance were baptized in the Holy Spirit, which was evidenced in some by the speaking of tongues, and others by miraculous healings. The revival and the outpouring of the Spirit lasted for three months. Word quickly spread, and thousands traveled to Los Angeles, many of whom were also allegedly baptized in the Holy Spirit. These then gladly took the Pentecostal message and experience back to their homes. By 1909 there were 12 Pentecostal preaching stations in Los Angles. Within a generation the Pentecostal movement had spread all over America and was a new force in Christendom.

Actually, the origins of Pentecostalism go back much farther. The first Pentecostals were members of the Nineteenth Century Holiness Movement, which began to reassert John Wesley’s teaching of Christian perfection, sometimes known as entire sanctification. Wesley’s teaching of entire sanctification had in turn had been influenced by German pietism (the Moravians). Each of these movements taught that the Christian was to seek and experience a second work of grace (the first work of grace being justification), namely, Christian perfection and entire sanctification. The Holiness Movement was associated with the revivals of evangelist Charles Finney (1792-1875) in the 1820s and 1830s. More than anyone else, Finney was responsible for popularizing the teaching of entire sanctification, which he said was an instantaneous act following conversion, which granted perfect liberation from all sin, including sinful thoughts. He also claimed that this entire sanctification is the normal experience of Christians. After the Civil War, when a spirit of worldliness had entered the churches, Methodist churches began holding revivals stressing the need for the experience of entire sanctification. This in turn started a national Holiness Movement, which caused schism within the Methodist Church. Its proponents became known as “holy rollers.”

The family tree of Pentecostalism is, therefore, as follows: Pietism -- the Moravians -- Wesley -- Finney -- Holiness Movement -- Pentecostalism.The Holiness Movement continues today, the largest body being the Church of the Nazarene. Generally speaking, they reject various forms of popular entertainment, such as dancing, movies, popular music, smoking, drinking, gambling, and even make-up and ornate clothing.The key difference between the Holiness Movement and Pentecostalism has to do with their understanding of what the Baptism in the Holy Spirit does. Pentecostals assert that the purpose of the Baptism in the Spirit is to bestow Pentecostal gifts, such as the speaking of tongues, miraculous healings, and power for living. Holiness churches teach that the purpose of the Baptism in the Spirit is the bestowal of entire sanctification.

Distinctive Teaching of Pentecostalism

In the words of Frederick Dale Bruner: “The distinctive teaching of the Pentecostal movement concerns the experience, evidence, and power of what Pentecostals call the baptism in the Holy Spirit. The first reception of this baptism is recorded in the New Testament account of Pentecost in Acts chapter 2[:4], and it is from this that Pentecostalism takes its name” (Frederick Dale Bruner, Theology of the Holy Spirit: The Pentecostal Experience and the New Testament Witness (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1970), 20-21). Pentecostals teach that the “baptism in the Holy Spirit” is distinct from, and follows, water baptism, is gained by absolute obedience and faith, and it is evidenced by the speaking in tongues and the filling of the Holy Spirit. Moreover, they teach that all Christians can and should experience this second baptism--the baptism in the Spirit should be eagerly sought. Until one has experienced the second baptism, one has not experienced the “full gospel.” Pentecostals maintain that the story of Pentecost in Acts 2 is not only a description of what happened to the first generation of Christians; it is a blueprint of what should happen in every generation of Christians until Jesus returns. Pentecostals believe that every Christian has been baptized by or of the Holy Spirit but not in or with the Holy Spirit. In other words, they teach that every Christian has been baptized by the Holy Spirit into Christ (conversion), but that Christ has not yet baptized every believer into the Spirit (Pentecost). What unites Pentecostals is the common experience of the baptism in the Holy Spirit.

Lutherans have two concerns with this. First, there is no evidence that all Christians in the New Testament age experienced a second Baptism in the Holy Spirit as evidenced by the speaking in tongues. In fact, there are only three or four examples of it in the Book of Acts. It is significant that on the day of Pentecost itself, there is no mention that the first three thousand converts experienced a baptism in the Holy Spirit or spoke in tongues. Rather through water Baptism they received the gift of the Spirit (Acts 2:38). Therefore, to suggest that God wants every Christian to have a second Baptism which brings incredible power is setting forth a false hope. Second, Lutherans are concerned that Pentecostals often teach that one must first become worthy before one can be baptized in the Spirit. This worthiness is gained by complete obedience to Christ, holiness, intense prayer, fasting, etc. This conflicts with the Biblical teaching that God gives his Spirit freely, by grace, for all who believe in Jesus and are baptized with water. This emphasis on worthiness tempts Pentecostals to lapse into works-righteousness.

Overview of Their Theology

Pentecostalism was, in part, a reaction against modernism in the early Twentieth Century. They were very influenced by the fundamentalist movement, and their theology reflects this. Therefore, they have tended to be Biblically conservative in their theology. They are Arminian rather than Calvinist. They also tend to be strongly pre-millennial in their eschatology (teaching of the end times). They also hold to four cardinal doctrines (often called the “four square gospel”). (1) Salvation; (2) the Baptism in the Holy Spirit; (3) Divine healing; (4) Second Coming of Christ.

God

Pentecostals generally confess the Biblical teaching that God is three divine Persons in one divine Essence. However, several Pentecostal bodies reject the teaching of Trinity and instead modalism: that God appeared in the Old Testament as Yahweh, in the New Testament as Jesus, and now as the Holy Spirit.

Jesus

Pentecostals teach that Jesus is true God and true man in one Person, and that his death on the cross fully atoned for the sins of the world. They heavily stress the substitutionary atonement, the virgin birth, the bodily resurrection, the miracles, ascension, and return of Christ, since these were rejected by modernism.

Bible

The Bible is viewed as the verbally inspired and infallible Word of God. It is the only source and authority for Christian teaching.

Sin

Pentecostals believe that by voluntary sin man spiritually died and was separated from God. However, they tend to teach that children are not accountable for sin until they reach the age of reason. They also teach that man is free to either choose or reject Christ.

Salvation

They hold to the Biblical teaching of justification by grace through faith.

Means of Grace

Pentecostals have a weak or nonexistent doctrine of the means of grace. They tend to see help and grace coming directly from the Holy Spirit. They refer to Baptism and the Lord’s Supper as ordinances. Footwashing is sometimes added as a third ordinance.

Baptism

Baptism in water is a work that we do because Jesus has commanded us to do it, that demonstrates to the world that we are Christians. They typically insist on immersion. Scripture teaches, however that Baptism is God’s work of grace by which he saves us and causes us to be born again. They do not practice infant baptism.

Lord’s Supper

Pentecostals teach that the bread and the “fruit of the vine” only symbolize Christ’s body and blood, and is a memorial meal, prophecies Christ’s second coming, and is commanded of all believers. Grape juice is typically used. Once again, God’s work of grace and forgiveness is turned into our work of obedience.

Divine healing

Pentecostals hold that divine (miraculous) healing is “an integral part of the Gospel,” which Christ provided for all believers through his atonement. It is the privilege of all believers.

The End Times

Like fundamentalists, Pentecostals tend to hold to pre-millennial dispensationalism, which was first taught by John Nelson Darby (1800-82), and popularized in the Scoffed Reference Bible. This is also the teaching of the “Left Behind” books and movies. A premillennial view of the end times means that Christ will return before a literal thousand year reign on earth. Darby taught that in the world’s history there have been and will be seven dispensations or ages. The seventh will end in Christ’s literal thousand year (millennium) reign on earth. The sequence is as follows: (1) Christ will invisibly return and rapture his saints to heaven; (2) Christ will visibly return with his saints who will reign on earth will him for 1000 years. During this reign the nation of Israel will be saved, and there will be a time of universal peace. (3) Judgment Day will occur.

Worship and Tongues

Pentecostals tend to view the liturgy as unspiritual. Instead they attempt to pattern their worship after 1 Corinthians 14. Their services include the public speaking of tongues which are then interpreted (sometimes). Their services include the reading of Scripture, a sermon, prayers, many songs of praise, and (not always) the Lord’s Supper. Pentecostals also teach that tongues should be used as a private “prayer language,” something which Scripture does not seem to support.