Pentecostalism in five minutes

What is Pentecostalism?

It is a body of more than 250 million Christians who belong to denominations and churches defined by a distinctive theology and style of worship.

So are they catholic, protestant or orthodox?

Oh definitely protestant. They do not accept the authority of the Pope or the Patriarchs. They emerged from within existing protestant denominations: in particular Methodism. They also typically share evangelical protestant beliefs that the Bible is free errors and an emphasis on personal salvation.

So how are they different from other Protestants?

Technically speaking: “Pentecostals are united by the belief that after the Holy Spirit applies Christ’s salvation to the sinner, there is another experience available to the believer where the Holy Spirit fills them, which many believe is evidence by speaking in tongues. Most Pentecostals believe this experience should be the norm for all Christians.”

“Speaking in tongues?”

“Tongues” in the English translation of the New Testament Greek word “charisma,” which is one of nine gifts of the Spirit described in 1 Corinthians 12:4-11 in the New Testament. Some believe “tongues,” is speaking known languages, but which are unfamiliar to the speaker; others believe “tongues” is speaking in languages unknown to anyone. Still others believe both are possibilities”

Why are they called Pentecostals?

Their name comes from the Feast of Pentecost which commemorates the Holy Spirit coming to earth and giving the disciples the ability to preach in myriad different languages. This allowed them to spread the gospels beyond Palestine.

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That name is apt for modern Pentecostals because it emphasises their sense of continuity with that period. Firstly, there is their belief that miracles and in particular speaking in tongues is not confined to the age of Apostles. Equally importantly, they are in general very focused on evangelism.

Where would you find Pentecostals?

Virtually everywhere in the world has a Pentecostal community of some sort. There are over a million of them in the UK. However, the movement is strongest in the Global South. Its largest group of believers are found in Africa and Latin America.

Does it appeal to anyone in particular?

Yes, its adherents tend to be drawn disproportionately from the poorest and most disadvantaged members of their societies.

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The election of a South American Pope and his subsequent focus on poverty could be seen as the Catholic Churches reaction to the tens of millions of poor Latin Americans to Pentecostal churches.

Is it a liberal or conservative movement?

That’s difficult to say either in terms of theology or politics. Pentecostalism is a massively diverse movement and there’s no central authority. Even if we are prepared to deal in terms of generalisations then it doesn’t neatly fit into these categories.

Its members tend to share conservative evangelicals belief biblical inerrancy. However, Pentecostal gives the Holy Spirit a central role and that provides an extra-biblical source of authority.

Pentecostal churches tend to have conservative views on human sexuality yet also have a long tradition of allowing women to hold leadership positions.

Their members are often poor and drawn to movements on the left such as Chavezism. However, Pentecostalism is also frequently associated with the ‘prosperity gospel’, a doctrine that sees material wealth as a divine reward for goodliness.

In short, it’s a difficult movement to label.

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