Pentecostal Churches

views updated Jun 11 2018


PENTECOSTAL CHURCHES emerged from the teachings fostered by the National Holiness Association in the late nineteenth century. Holiness churches with in the Methodist tradition emphasized John Wesley's teaching of a "second blessing" or sanctification experience following conversion. Beginning in the 1890s, independent Pentecostals began to take note of the teaching of Benjamin Irvin of the Fire–Baptized Holiness Church who formulated the notion of a post-sanctification baptism of the Holy Spirit (or third blessing). This teaching was given a new force when the black preacher William J. Seymour presided over the Asuza Street revival. Seymour had been taught that, while the sanctification experience cleansed the believer, baptism with the Holy Spirit brought power for service; the only evidence for this was provided by the gift of tongues (or glossolalia) recorded in the Acts of the Apostles. At 312 Azusa Street in Los Angeles, he led an interracial revival that began in 1906 and would last until 1909. The style of worship, with much weeping and speaking in tongues and without a choir or recognized order of service, would characterize the worship style of the later Pentecostal denominations. The two denominations that drew most from the Azusa experience were the Church of God in Christ, founded by C. H. Mason in 1897, and the Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee) established in 1906 by A. J. Tomlinson. Mason attended the Asuza revival in 1907 as the leader of the largest African American Pentecostal grouping in the world. Tomlinson helped establish the concept of speaking in tongues as a central tenet of Pentecostal teaching. Both Southern groups helped add to the holiness doctrine of sanctification the idea of a "baptism of fire" and the vibrant tradition of Pentecostal hostility to jewelry, lodges, life insurance, and medicine.

Doctrinal Controversies

The early stress on glossolalia as an essential ingredient provoked hostility from former Baptists entering the movement, who did not share the Wesleyan heritage of their ex-Methodist brethren. In 1908, William H. Durham sought to deny the Wesleyan idea of a residue of sin following conversion, instead considering sanctification to be analogous with conversion. Durham's notion of the "finished work" gained ground with independent churches newly established in urban areas to care for migrants from

the rural South. In 1914, E. N. Bell and H. G. Rogers helped to establish the Assemblies of God, a largely white body, which espoused the "finished work" doctrine and adopted a congregational polity. The Assemblies of God were also forced to confront a challenge from members who argued there was only one personality in the Trinity—Jesus Christ—and that new birth, sanctification, and the gift of tongues all occurred at the same moment. The Assemblies of God issued a Trinitarian doctrinal statement in 1916, at which point their Unitarian-inclined members left to later merge with the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World in 1917.

The Racial Divide

Racial divisions have characterized the Pentecostal movement throughout its history. Although the early churches were racially integrated, only the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World enjoyed much interracial comity. In the Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee) and the Pentecostal Holiness Church, southern culture and black demands for independence led to effective segregation. Nevertheless, the style of Pentecostal worship and its reputation as a faith of the downtrodden meant that Pentecostalism did exercise allure for African Americans. By 1990, the Church of God in Christ had become the fifth-largest denomination in the United States. Black Pentecostals were excluded from the trans denominational Pentecostal Fellowship of North America (PFNA), when it was founded in 1948, and only gradually did white Pentecostals come to see a value in the civil rights movement. In 1994, the PFNA was dissolved and then replaced by the Pentecostal and Charismatic Churches of North America, in which the black churches enjoyed full standing.

A New Legitimacy

Pentecostal churches have faced problems gaining acceptance in wider society. Early associations with the more dramatic aspects of "holy rollerism" provoked violence against them. Over time, as many working-class Pentecostals gained a foothold in middle-class society, this prejudice waned. They steadily entered the evangelical mainstream and played a part in the formation of the National Association of Evangelicals (the conservative counterpart to the Federal Council of Churches) in 1943. The establishment of an educational system, of which the crown jewel was Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Oklahoma, also conferred legitimacy. Even more important for social legitimation was the phenomenon of neo-Pentecostal manifestations within the mainstream Protestant and Roman Catholic churches, which accepted the Pentecostal experience as a release of grace given and received at a water baptism. Today, Pentecostals have passed from a subculture into the mainstream of American life. Pentecostal televangelists like Pat Robertson have wielded great influence in American society. In 1995, Brownsville Assemblies of God Church was the scene of a mass revival, which caught world attention and had by 1997 attracted 1.6 million attendees and 100,000 responses to altar calls.

Pentecostals Today

There are a vast variety of Pentecostal groups in the United States today. The three largest are the Assemblies of God with 2,574,531 members in 1999, the Church of God in Christ with 5,499,875 members in 1991, and the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World with 1,500,000 members in 1998. Groups with over 100,000 members are the Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee) with 870,039 in 1999, the Full Gospel Fellowship of Churches and Ministers International with 325,000 in 2000, the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel with 253,412 in 1999, the International Pentecostal Holiness Church with 185,431 in 1999, and the Pentecostal Church of God with 105,200 in 1999. Smaller groups include the Apostolic Faith Mission Church of God with 10,651 in 1999, the Apostolic Overcoming Holy Church of God with 10,714 in 2000, the Church of God of Prophecy with 75,112 in 1999, the Full Gospel Assemblies International with 52,500 in 1998, and the Pentecostal Free Will Baptist Church with 28,000 in 1998.


Anderson, Robert Mapes. Vision of the Disinherited: The Making of American Pentecostalism. New York: Oxford University Press, 1979.

Cox, Harvey. Fire from Heaven: The Rise of Pentecostal Spirituality and the Reshaping of Religion in the Twenty-First Century. Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley, 1995.

Crews, Mickey. The Church of God: A Social History. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1990.

Synan, Vinson. The Holiness-Pentecostal Tradition: Charistmatic Movements in the Twentieth Century. Grand Rapids, Mich.: W. B. Eerdmans, 1997.

Wacker, Grant. Heaven Below: Early Pentecostals and American Culture. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2001.


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Pentecostal Churches

views updated May 23 2018


The Pentecostal churches originated out of the Holiness movement, especially in the wave revivalism that swept through the U.S. during the early decades of the 20th century. They are characterized by a distinctive emphasis on sanctification that includes a conversion process in which an adult makes a decision or has a conversion experience; a cleansing from sin, or justification; a baptism of the Holy Spirit as an instantaneous spiritual transformation separate from and following justification; and, as a specific characteristic, a renewal of the gifts of Pentecost (Acts 2.14) consequent to baptism, especially the climactic charismata of glossalalia and faith healing. Many adherents of the Pentecostal movement are found in bodies that do not include the Pentecostal name, such as Elim Missionary Assemblies, International Church of the foursquare gospel, and the largest of the Pentecostal bodies, the assemblies of god.

World interest in the Pentecostal movement stems from the sensational accounts of a prayer meeting held in Los Angeles, Calif., on April 9, 1906, at which an African-American boy began to speak in tongues. Although some Pentecostal churches predate this event, 1906 is regarded as the birth year of the Pentecostal movement. Another source of development has been secession and merger. The Pentecostal Assemblies of the World, organized

in 1914 as an interracial body, split in 1924 when the white members withdrew and formed the Pentecostal Church, Inc., which in turn merged with the Pentecostal Assemblies of Jesus Christ in 1945 to form the United Pentecostal Church with its distinctive anti-Trinitarian formulation of doctrine. Other Pentecostal churches that are the result of mergers are the Assemblies of God, the Pentecostal Holiness Church, International Pentecostal Assemblies, and the Pentecostal Fire-Baptized Holiness Church.

The Bible is the sole doctrinal authority, interpreted from a fundamentalist position. In addition, the Scriptures are looked upon as furnishing rules of order and discipline for all conditions of the life of man. Some of the Pentecostal churches accept the Lord's Supper, but allow a free interpretation of its significance. Many practice foot washing as part of the divine ordinances. Faith healing is common.

Good works, as part of the "spirit-filled life" and as a preparation for the coming of the Lord, are urged on all Pentecostalists. They include visiting the sick, strengthening the weak, encouraging the fainthearted, and pointing out the way of salvation. The Pentecostal ethos prescribes a strict abstinence from worldly pleasures, obedience to civil laws, the support of the church through tithes, and a complete cleansing of heart and soul from all remaining sin. In addition members are constrained from participating in war, destroying property, or injuring human life.

Worship is informal rather than ritualistic or liturgical, and freedom is encouraged. A large degree of emotionalism often permeates the devotional life of Pentecostalists. Favorite themes of preaching include atonement through the blood of Jesus, spiritual baptism, and the second coming.

Government is generally along the lines of congregational polity, although in some instances the organization of the church includes district conferences, annual conferences, and a general conference, all somewhat similar to those of the Methodist system. Missionary work is vigorously carried on at home and in many foreign countries under the guidance of local or denominational missionary boards.

Bibliography: d. gee, The Pentecostal Movement (London 1941). s. h. frodsham, With Signs Following (rev. ed. Springfield, Mo. 1946). r. m. riggs, The Spirit Himself (Springfield, Mo. 1949). s. durasoff, The Bright Wind of the Spirit (Englewood Cliffs, N.J. 1972). w.j. hollenweger, The Pentecostals (Minneapolis 1972). v. synan, The Holiness-Pentecostal Movement in the United States (Grand Rapids, Mich. 1971). w.w. menzies, Anointed to Serve (Springfield, Mo. 1971). f.s. mead, s.s. hill and c.d. atwood, eds., Handbook of Denominations in the United States, 11th ed (Nashville 2001).

[r. matzerath]

Pentecostal churches

views updated May 14 2018

Pentecostal churches believe that the Pentecost experience remains accessible. Consequently they stress baptism in the Spirit, which they distinguish from conversion or water baptism. This conveys power to practise the gifts of the Spirit: speaking in tongues, prophecy, healing, exorcism. Although similar beliefs are discernible among 2nd-cent. Montanists, 16th-cent. anabaptists, 19th-cent. Irvingites, and later offshoots of revivalism, 20th-cent. pentecostalism began at the Asuza Street mission, Los Angeles, 9 April 1906, when members started to speak in tongues. The movement reached England via Norway in 1907, when an ex-methodist, T. B. Barratt, influenced the rector of Monkwearmouth, spread to Wales, where the Jeffreys family of Maesteg founded the Elim foursquare gospel alliance, and thence to Ireland. The largest British churches are the assemblies of God (formed in the United States in 1914), the apostolic faith church, the Elim churches (their foursquare gospel can be encapsulated in Christ—saviour, healer, baptizer in the Spirit, and coming king), and the New Testament Church of God, with its strength among West Indian communities. Their worship is spontaneous, with emphasis on extempore prayer, believer's baptism, and the Lord's supper. Their doctrines are those of world-denying conservative protestantism. Their rapid 20th-cent. growth, especially in Latin America and Africa, attracted the label of Christendom's ‘Third Force’, after Roman catholicism and protestantism.

Clyde Binfield

Pentecostal Churches

views updated Jun 27 2018

Pentecostal Churches Fellowship of revivalist Christian sects, inspired by the belief that all Christians should seek to be baptized with the Holy Spirit, and experience events such as speaking in tongues. Pentecostalists believe in the literal truth of the Bible, and many abstain from alcohol and tobacco and disapprove of dancing, theatre, and other such pastimes. The Pentecostal movement began in the USA at Topeka, Kansas, in 1901. Today, there are c.22 million Pentecostals worldwide. See also charismatic movement