Human Nature and the Purpose of Existence
Written by: Arlene Sanchez WalshFor Pentecostals, the view of human nature is gleaned from literalist readings of the Bible, where, due to their own rebellion, humans abandoned a perfected humanity and condemned themselves to a state stained by a sinful, carnal nature that they inherited from Adam and Eve. Conversion allows one to overcome that taint, and the baptism of the Holy Spirit allows one to gird one's self with supernatural gifts that suit them for ministry and strengthen them to fight off the temptations of the carnal nature. In a traditionally Protestant, and therefore Pentecostal, reading of human nature, humanity cannot save itself, hence the need for the atoning work of Jesus whose death and resurrection are the only way God restores humanity to the creation that is sinless and eternal. Human nature, for Pentecostals, is defined by a belief in the "fall," such that all humans are viewed as captives to sin, dead because of sin, and cannot do anything to justify themselves before God.
Deviations from this theology come from two different venues: the Word of Faith movement and certain remnants of the "Latter Rain" movement. Word of Faith teachers, such as Kenneth Hagin and Charles Capps, have taught that the incarnation of Jesus granted humanity with a nearly perfect copy of God's nature. The Word of Faith leaders teach that by taking on the nature of Jesus, humanity can become perfect. Humans are not supposed to become ill and they will always prosper financially. These controversial views have, in the view of Word of Faith supporters, been greatly distorted and taken out of context by other Pentecostals, who charge that the idea that the nature of Jesus can become ours moves Word of Faith members uncomfortably close to the deification of humanity.
The "Latter Rain" movement (a post-World War II, anti-denominational phase in Pentecostal history), especially ideas promoted by William Branham and George Warnock, held that out of this new movement there would arise a group of leaders who would be so empowered by God that they would exhibit God-like powers. For example, Branham's exposition of this doctrine included the belief that he could pray things into existence, mimicking God's creative power. Warnock's contribution, a book called Feast of Tabernacles (1951), suggested that some believers-"manifest sons of God"-who had reached perfection in faith would not experience the terrible events mentioned in the Bible that will befall the Christian church in the end times. The larger Latter Rain movement has since splintered into various nondenominational churches and ministries with followers of Branham and Warnock splitting into separate groups and proponents of the "Manifest Sons of God" theology, a modified version of Warnock's ideas, have split into much smaller groups.
Pentecostals, like other Christians, believe that the purpose of existence is to worship God. They believe that God has created them for a purpose and so their lives are not random chance occurrences. Uncovering what the purpose is, making sure that they are guided correctly to that purpose, requires Pentecostals to utilize a variety of sources to help them with this process. Pentecostals engage in Bible reading and prayer in order to help discern what God's will is for their lives. Additionally, Pentecostals rely on the Holy Spirit's inspiration through praying in tongues, messages in tongues that are interpreted, and prophetic words that are meant to guide them toward God's purpose for them. All of these spiritual gifts and their results need to be interpreted through the lens of how they square with the Bible.
For example, one of the most utilized spiritual gifts for gaining insight into life is the word of knowledge, which, among many Pentecostals, has been conflated with prophecy. Words of knowledge are given to people who are in need of direction, seeking answers to often vexing questions, and are also for the purpose of encouraging people during trying times. In contemporary Pentecostalism, one way to find out God's purpose for your life is for another Pentecostal to offer you insight through a word of knowledge or wisdom. Words of wisdom are less frequently used for discerning God's purposes, but rather they are words given to adherents so that they can receive a deeper knowledge of what the Bible says about a particular issue affecting their lives. These are all viewed as prophetic words, though this kind of prophecy has nothing to do with forecasting events. It is akin to the biblical example of Jeremiah, whose prophetic words were often exhortations and warnings rather than foretelling the future.