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.
It is a known story that some group of radical Jews wanted to go against the Roman Empire fighting for the independence of the land of Israel. In such a context, the figure of Jesus was at least contradictory. He claimed to be a king though without a land to rule, he said his realm was not of this world and he proclaimed freedom for the slaves, but not Israeli independence. It was understandable to see some Jews rejecting him, because why should we follow a liberator that can’t give political freedom?
This story has a different meaning depending on the place where it is remembered. For instance, it is not the same to speak about it being a Christian of a first world country like England -that was a big Christian empire until just some years ago- or United States -that still looks to be like a kind of empire for many parts of the world-, than to reflect on it from a third world country like a Latin-American one. Continue reading Pentecostals vs the Empire→
R. Hollis Gause, a prominent Pentecostal theologian (Church of God, Cleveland, TN), elucidates an alternative to fundamentalist dispensationalism through a careful comparison-contrast of dispensational theology and a theology of progressive revelation. Gause explains that progressive revelation does not divide up biblical history as dispensationalism. It does not hermeneutically distinguish between the Church, Israel, and the kingdom of God. The nature of God, the history of salvation, and the character of the people of God are progressively revealed. Earlier events anticipate and predict later events. The inspiration of the Holy Spirit gives Scripture a progressive and even prophetic or predictive quality.
In stark contrast to the hermeneutical compartmentalizing of dispensationalism, progressive revelation affirms a more unified approach to biblical interpretation and understanding. Gause concludes that “the view of progressive and unified revelation of the history of salvation offers the better interpretation of Scripture.” For Gause, considerations of the unchangeableness and unity of God and God’s Word consistently lead to this conclusion. Continue reading A Pentecostal Alternative to Dispensationalism→
The original movement behind modern Charismatic Christianity is Pentecostalism. The name “Pentecostal”, as we all likely know, comes directly from the second chapter of the Acts of the Apostles. In that chapter, on the day of Pentecost (referring to the fiftieth day after Passover), the early church received an amazing gift (charism): the Holy Spirit descended upon them. The Bible says:
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability (Acts 2:1-4).
The story of Pentecost is powerful. It testifies to us the importance of the Spirit in the church. However, we in the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement have a tendency to stop reading the chapter not long after this. We heavily emphasize spiritual gifts and revival, but we ignore the following verses in this chapter, in which the early church’s social dynamic is described to us. Continue reading Community of Goods: Economics According to the New Testament→
Pentecostal biblical scholar French Arrington details the popularization of dispensationalism by John Nelson Darby and by C. I. Scofield. Arrington describes dispensationalism as “an interpretive scheme grafted onto the traditional body of Christian doctrine.” He defines it more specifically as a “basic assumption that God deals with the human race in successive dispensations.” A dispensation is a period of time marked by a beginning, a test, and termination in judgment through human failure or sin.
Though dispensationalism has influenced Pentecostal theology, probably because of the avid attachment of both to eschatology, “the earliest Pentecostal teachings were not tied to directly to dispensationalism.” In Arrington’s opinion, the statements of faith of major Pentecostal denominations do “commit them to premillennialism but not necessarily to dispensationalism.” Continue reading Why Did Pentecostalism Merge With Fundamentalism?→
The modern Pentecostal movement is a child of the radical wing of the Holiness movement, which championed the doctrine of sanctification as a second, definite work of grace. The Holiness movement was very active in works of social justice, including but not limited to various compassionate ministries, interracial work, temperance, and women’s suffrage. Especially from 1850 onward, it produced a number of women who ministered as evangelists, Bible study leaders, and even a bishop. Mrs. Alma White had been a popular Methodist preacher who participated in the Metropolitan Church Association, one of many such Holiness associations. Ultimately, Alma left both groups and founded the Pillar of Fire Church. She was consecrated a bishop by the Holiness evangelist William Godbey.
With this kind of backdrop to the Pentecostal movement in the United States, it would seem likely that women would play a significant role. And so they did. Charles Fox Parham trained women for ministry in his Apostolic Faith Movement from 1900 onward. His sister-in-law, Lilian Thistlewaite, held meetings of her own throughout the midwest and appeared alongside Parham in extended meetings elsewhere. Parham commissioned a number of women to establish church plants and serve as pastors.
The African American preacher William Joseph Seymour brought the Apostolic Faith Movement to Los Angeles in 1906. His Azusa Street Mission quickly became known as an interracial congregation led by an African American pastor, with capable women and men providing leadership and outreach. The Mission was even ridiculed on the front page of the Los Angeles Evening News, July 23, 1906, for violating Paul’s command in 1 Corinthians 14:34 regarding the silence of women. Continue reading Why Aren’t There More Female Pentecostal Pastors?→
I have quite an interesting Christian life. Some of my fellow Pentecostals think I am liberal, and they often ask themselves “Is Samuel still a Pentecostal?” Here are my answers to the question they ask:
Indeed, I am a Pentecostal, but I wholeheartedly believe that the Pentecostal movement needs serious reform. Just like any other religious movement, it has its own blind spots and makes its own errors, yet, at the same time, it shines in its own beauty. Whenever I say that I am a Pentecostal, I do not mean that I belong to a Pentecostal religious system, organization, or denomination. Instead, I believe in the very essence, the very foundation of our faith as it is based in the Pentecost documented in the Book of Acts. Continue reading What Kind of Pentecostal Am I?→