Category Archives: Pentecostalism

What is Pentecostalism?

Pentecostalism takes its name from the event at Pentecost as described in Acts 2. In that passage, there was coming of the Holy Spirit that was accompanied by speaking in tongues. Pentecostals identify with that experience and seek it for their own life.

The origin of Pentecostalism is often traced back to Azusa Street Revival in Los Angelas under the preaching of William Seymour (1906-1915). While that was a significant event, it goes back farther.

Pentecostalism emerged partially out of Methodism. Wesleyan theology included a second act of grace called sanctification. It was believed that a Christian could experience full sanctification in this life.

A number of holiness movements emerged in the 19th century. These heavily emphasized the present work of the Holy Spirit. There was an increasing focus on the miraculous.

A.B. Simpson (1843-1919), founder of the Christian and Missionary Alliance, brought miraculous healing back as a major focus of Christian experience. Around the turn of the century, there were numerous claims of speaking in tongues.

The beginning of the twentieth century saw an explosion of Pentecostal groups. They were marked by diversity. Racial groups worshiped together and women had important places in leadership. Unfortunately, these progressive movements diminished over time as the Pentecostals became more organized and emulated other fundamentalist groups.

Part of the diversity was with regard to theology. There were mainly three streams of Pentecostals: 1) holiness Pentecostals, who believed in both the baptism of the Spirit and sanctification, 2) oneness Pentecostals, who rejected the Trinity and saw Jesus as the one and only God and 3) classical Pentecostals, who accepted both the Trinity and gradual but not full sanctification.

The defining theology of Pentecostals, then and now, was that there was an experience called the baptism of the Holy Spirit that was available post-conversion for all Christians. The evidence of this baptism was that of speaking in tongues. Speaking in tongues was not a foreign language but ecstatic speech.

In addition to speaking in tongues, there is also an emphasis on miraculous healing and eschatology. Eschatology is often of the pre-tribulational, pre-millennial form.

It should be noted that Pentecostalism and the prosperity gospel are not synonymous. Some Pentecostals do embrace the prosperity gospel and some prosperity proponents would not identify as Pentecostals.

One study suggests that Pentecostalism represents 26 percent of world Christianity, second only to Roman Catholicism.

The Azusa Street Revival

One of the fast growing segments of the Christian church is that of the Pentecostals. But Pentecostalism started from some very humble beginnings in Los Angeles at the beginning of the twentieth century. This was the Azusa Street Revival.

How Did Oneness Pentecostalism Start?

DovePentecostalism became a major Christian movement early in the twentieth century and continues to have an impact worldwide. Although many Pentecostals are trintarian, there is also segment that are Oneness or Jesus Only Pentecostals.

Oneness Pentecostals deny the trinity but still affirm the divinity of Jesus. It is related to an early division within the church called modalism. Modalism taught that God appeared in different modes, such as the Father or the Son, but not at the same time.

One of the theological origins of this movement came from reflection on baptismal formulas. Here are two passages that were influential:

  • Peter said to them, “Repent, and each one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:38)
  • Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. (Matthew 28:19)

So which is it? Are Christians to baptize in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit or in the name of Jesus? What if the name (notice it doesn’t say names) of the Father, Son of the Holy Spirit was actually Jesus?

Some early Pentecostals began to get rebaptized in the name of Jesus, since their previous baptism had been in the name of the Father, Son and Spirit. What began as a desire for a correct baptism formula developed into a new understanding of the nature of God. There was one God and his name was Jesus.

This was an influential movement within Pentecostalism. The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada became Oneness for a time and only returned to trinitarianism under influence from the American Assemblies of God. Although the PAOC is now strongly trinitarian, I used to attend a PAOC church and one of the older pastors would use both the Matthew and Acts formula when baptizing.

Oneness Pentecostals are still around, such as in organizations like the United Pentecostal Church. In addition to a rejection of the trinity, they also believe that the baptism of the Holy Spirit, marked by speaking in tongues, is a requirement for salvation.

If you are interested in learning more about Pentecostalism, I recommend this book:

Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements