By Micael Grenholm, editor for PCPJ.
Ever since rev. Campbell Morgan called Pentecostalism “the last vomit of Satan” and the Los Angeles Times warned the public about the “new sect of fanatics [that] is breaking loose” from Azusa Street, Spirit-filled Christians have had a bad rap. Other Christians as well as non-Christians oftentimes find us weird, and sometimes a bit dangerous. A lot of those perceptions are based on myths and misconceptions. Here are nine common beliefs about Pentecostals and Charismatics that are totally wrong.
1. It’s a small movement
Depending on where you’re located, the Pentecostal and Charismatic (P&C) movement might seem pretty small. But when you look at it on a global level, it turns out that 600 million people are P&Cs. 200 million are Pentecostals, 100 million are charismatic Catholics, and 300 million are charismatics in a big variety of denominations and churches. Since the number of P&Cs amounted to around zero in the beginning of the 20th century, the P&C movement is commonly described as the fastest growing religious movement in the world.
2. It’s a Cult
I’ve heard surprisingly many casually state “All of Pentecostalism is a cult”, to which I like to respond “That’s about as true as the statement ‘The moon is a tomato’.” Cult is not synonymous with “religion I don’t like”, it has an academic meaning of an isolated group with an authoritarian leader, and while there surely are several sad examples of charismatic churches that have developed into cults it is simply ridiculous to claim that we all would be part of some sort of Jonestown. At least that’s what my Leader tells me and he’s always infallible when he drinks goat blood.
3. It’s Demonic
A few years ago evangelical minister John MacArthur claimed on his Strange Fire conference that all charismatics are infected by Hindu kundalini demons and that we’re all going to hell if we don’t repent from believing that what the Holy Spirit did in the Bible is stuff that he can do today. Now, the devil seems to be very interested in evangelism and world mission if that’s true. The church in Nepal has grown from a couple of hundred people in the late 80’s to two million today, and the Chinese church has exploded to about 100 million people during the 20th century. Almost all Christians in both of these countries are charismatic, and many refer to miracles as the reason they came to Christ.
4. P&Cs are too emotional
It’s true that we can become stirred up sometimes, but perhaps the issue is that many non-charismatic people, particularly in the West, are suppressing their emotional life in an unhealthy way. Rather than being too emotional, perhaps we’re just as emotional as one ought to be when the Spirit of the Creator of the universe moves inside you. And then of course there’s the Vineyard, which in the tradition of John Wimber is super casual and non-hype, delivering people from demons with one hand and drinking coffee with the other.
5. P&Cs don’t use medicines and doctors
In the early days of the movement, there were some Pentecostals who argued that we should only rely on divine healing, and that using science-based medicine is a sign of doubt. But those quickly died off, for obvious reasons. Today the consensus among P&Cs is that while divine healing exists and is awesome, it’s just stupid to not also seek medical help from humans as well, just as Paul and Luke thought in the Bible.
6. P&Cs think that only tongue-speaking Christians are real Christians
Again, there were early Pentecostals that would argue for something similar, even though most of them would not say that speaking in tongues show that you’re a real Christian but rather a complete Christian, realizing the full potential that God has for you. The main difference between Pentecostalism and the charismatic movement originally was that charismatics didn’t think that everyone who are baptized in the Spirit speaks in tongues, and over time less and less Pentecostals hold to the old view and have accepted Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 12 that not all speak in tongues.
7. P&Cs don’t care about peace and justice
Well, welcome to Pentecostals & Charismatics for Peace & Justice! That’s the website you’re reading this article on, if you hadn’t noticed by now. We try to highlight three surprising facts: most early Pentecostals were pacifists, most Pentecostals and charismatics around the world today care deeply about social justice, and early Anabaptism – a Christian movement emphasizing peace and justice – was very charismatic.
8. P&Cs are fundamentalists
As Tony Richie has brilliantly pointed out, fundamentalism is actually theologically opposed to Pentecostalism, and the fact that some Spirit-filled believers have called themselves fundamentalists or embraced fundamentalist ideas is similar to atheists believing that there’s an objective meaning to life: it doesn’t really add up to the worldview they claim to have. At the core of charismatic theology is listening to the Spirit and following his lead when interpreting the Bible, and so most P&Cs globally are much more gentle and nuanced than your average angry, screaming fundamentalist down the block.
9. P&Cs are preaching prosperity
Some do, but most don’t. As mentioned above, the vast majority of P&C churches worldwide are promoting social justice. Some of them talk about “prosperity” as simply meaning poverty reduction, others abstain from using the word altogether due to its connection with the American “health and wealth” teaching, which is generally seen as a very weird and unbiblical bunch of ideas, globally.
So there you have it! Are there more prejudices and myths about Pentecostals and Charismatics that you know about? Feel free to share them in the comments.
Pentecostals & Charismatics for Peace & Justice is a multicultural, gender inclusive, and ecumenical organization that promotes peace, justice, and reconciliation work among Pentecostal and Charismatic Christians around the world. If you like what we do, please join our Facebook forum, and sign up for our newsletter!