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Religion Library: Holiness and Pentecostal

Modern Age

Written by: Arlene Sanchez Walsh

The formative years of American Pentecostalism (1906-1940) were marked by a time of organizing the movement into various denominations that stabilized leadership, codified doctrine, and provided infrastructure to missions, education, and evangelism.  Soon thereafter, as a response to the perceived loss of spiritual vibrancy, independent evangelists began advocating for a renewal of the church, outside the established denominations, which they called human institutions that quenched the Spirit. Leaders to come out of this anti-denominational phase included Kenneth Hagin and Oral Roberts, who through theological and technological innovations such as televangelism brought Pentecostal practice to a mass audience.

The 1940s saw the formation of the Pentecostal Fellowship of North America (PFNA), which was an umbrella group for cooperation and fellowship between Pentecostal denominations in the United States. The PFNA held diverse Pentecostal groups together for many years until it was disbanded in 1994 because of its exclusion of African Americans. Leaders of the Church of God in Christ (COGIC) established its replacement, the Pentecostal/Charismatic Churches of North America (PCCNA), which is a multi-racial association of over 30 denominations.

The charismatic movement is one of the most significant and wide-reaching expressions of Pentecostal influence. The charismatic movement began as a spiritual renewal movement in the 1960s, chiefly in mainline Protestant, Catholic, and to a lesser degree, Orthodox churches. Not wanting to change their theology or leave their denominations, charismatic groups flourished amidst bemused and suspicious denominational leaders, many of whom wondered what this meant aside from some temporary emotional flourishes.

Father Dennis Bennett (1917-1991), an Episcopal priest, announced to his congregation in Van Nuys, California in 1960 that he has spoken in tongues. Bennett took his ministry to the northwest shortly thereafter and was an advocate for the charismatic renewal within the Episcopal church and among other mainline Protestant churches until his death in 1991.

Vying for the title of the "founder" of the charismatic movement was Harald Bredesen (1918-2006), a Lutheran pastor who received Spirit baptism in 1946.  As a pastor in the 1950s, Bredesen shared knowledge of his charismatic experience with Pat Robertson (1930-) and was the person who introduced Robertson to speaking in tongues.  Bredesen continued his work in the Lutheran church's Alliance of Renewal Churches in 1962.

The most sustained presence of the charismatic movement has been in the Roman Catholic Church, where, beginning in 1967 in a number of Catholic colleges and universities, laity began seeking charismatic experiences.  The charismatic renewal was most prominent on the campus of the University of Notre Dame and Duquesne University.  This movement received a vote of confidence from Cardinal Leo Jozef Suenens (1904-1986).  Suenens was dispatched to the U.S. in 1972 to see for himself if this charismatic renewal was acceptable to the Vatican.  Impressed by what he saw, Suenens supported the U.S. renewal, advocating that the gifts of the Spirit had not ceased with the ancient Church, but were in use today to renew the Church. From 1974 to 1986, Suenens wrote or co-wrote six documents on the charismatic renewal that still serve as theological guides for the Catholic Charismatic renewal.

As a way to harness the energy of the charismatic movement to the 1960s youth culture, a few enterprising pastors with Pentecostal roots began ministries to young people, emphasizing the work of the Holy Spirit as well as conversion.  One such pastor was Chuck Smith, a former Foursquare pastor, who began ministry to the surfer culture in southern California in 1965, and shortly thereafter formed Calvary Chapel. Calvary Chapel and its later spin-off, the Vineyard under John Wimber, were charismatic denominations that formed outside the classical Pentecostal denominational structures.  They were evangelical in theology and charismatic in practice and worship, without the Pentecostal dogmatic insistence on speaking in tongues as the initial evidence that a person had been baptized with the Holy Spirit.

The next flourish to Pentecostalism would be drawn from the post-war boom of young people, many of whom were predisposed against the Holiness-inspired piety of their parents, pastors, and churches.  The Jesus movement was distinctly charismatic, had roots in the Foursquare denomination, and radically re-drew the picture of Jesus. It focused on Jesus as a friend and required that one have a personal relationship with Jesus.  It taught that the gifts of the Spirit were not necessarily a part of a ordered pattern, but that God worked however God worked; whether or not one spoke in tongues as the initial evidence of Spirit baptism became secondary.  By the 1970s, nearly every Christian denomination had evidenced some type of charismatic activity.  The cultural and social contexts of these movements helped determine what their focus would be.  For some, healing was preeminent; for others, deliverance ministries, focused almost exclusively on exorcism, became their foci.
    
Today's global Pentecostalism is, in significant ways, renewing the face of what some have seen as an increasingly stagnant Christianity. In the U.S., as in other parts of the globe, Pentecostalism is growing, but usually within specific racial and ethnic groups.  The reasons for this growth are numerous, but it is clear that Pentecostalism's adaptability, its ability to be theologically innovative in a fluid religious marketplace, make it more readily acceptable than non-charismatic evangelicalism, or mainline Protestantism. 

According to some sociologists, Pentecostalism's global growth will only be equaled by the growth of Catholicism.  Although this is speculative, what is certain is that if current trends continue Pentecostalism, which in its early years was characterized as a distinctly American, white, midwestern, and southern phenomenon will no longer carry that connotation, but will be marked by its multiracial and multiethnic congregations.  Already nearly 75% of all Pentecostals live in the developing (or "two-thirds") world. At the same time, Pentecostalism in the U.S. accounts for about 10% of all Christians.

Globally, Pentecostals and charismatics combine to make up 450 million of the roughly 2 billion Christians worldwide, the largest Christian group outside the Roman Catholic Church.  The greatest growth has been in three areas:  Latin America, Asia, and Africa.  Whereas at the beginning of the 20th century Pentecostals accounted for a tiny fraction of Christians in these areas, now, according to an influential survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, the numbers for Pentecostalism in the developing world are approaching 1 billion members.

The numbers for certain countries in Latin America, once an overwhelmingly Catholic region of the world, are equally impressive.  In terms of Protestantism in these countries, Pentecostalism is now approaching parity with established mainline denominations.  In Brazil, 49% of Christian respondents were Pentecostal/charismatic; in Guatemala, 60% of respondents were.  In Kenya, 56% of respondents in Kenya were Pentecostal/charismatics; in South Africa, 34% were. In Asia, 44% of respondents in the Philippines were Pentecostal/charismatics; in contrast, in India only 5% were. 

These global Pentecostals share a number of characteristics in common with their U.S. counterparts, and they are helping to shift practice from tongues to healing.  Remarkably, a similarity in both U.S and global Pentecostals is that 40% of respondents responded that they rarely or never pray in tongues as a part of their devotional practices.

If one were looking for ties that bind the U.S and global Pentecostal movements together, it would be their similar stances on moral issues (homosexuality and abortion) as well as their belief in some form of prosperity gospel (God's blessing is necessary for me to be rich, or being rich is my natural condition if I am faithful).  The differences between global and American Pentecostalism lie in a variety of practices, theological innovations, and the shifting cultural demographics in the United States.

 
     
     
     
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