Sacred Time

Pentecostals do not have a concept of sacred time, nor do they structure their worship life around a calendar that creates a sense of sacredness around particular times of the year, though they do celebrate traditional Christian holidays. Some Pentecostals celebrate the day of Pentecost, fifty days after the resurrection of Jesus, but wary of demarcating a specific time for the presence of the Holy Spirit, most Pentecostals have moved away from celebrating that day.   If Pentecostals have a distinct concept of sacred time, it is usually displayed in the realm of everyday life.  Though Pentecostals attend worship services on Sunday, they otherwise continue normal activities on Sundays.  Setting time aside daily for prayer, worship, and Bible reading carves sacred time out of the normalcy of one's daily routine.  There is also a sense that they seek to recover earlier experiences in much the same way as they did when they were first baptized in the Spirit.  

A  historical example of this effort to re-experience powerful moments would be the ongoing focus on Azusa Street as a radical racial and gender egalitarian utopia.  At the 100th anniversary celebrations, which lasted for weeks, prayers for the same sense of unity and togetherness could be heard across Los Angeles, and especially at the Azusa site and the Bonnie Brae house. Followers prayed with such intensity it was as if they were expecting to experience the Holy Spirit much the same way that Seymour's followers had.   

A sense of sacred time is also present in some Pentecostal descriptions of how they feel after they have experienced the Holy Spirit.  Some people have described speaking in tongues, or being "slain in the Spirit" (falling down under the power of the Holy Spirit), or "resting in the Spirit" (lying down after an especially intense experience with the Holy Spirit, sometimes for hours) as experiencing a loss of time.  When researching Pentecostals in the Maya Highlands of Guatemala, anthropologist Felicitas Goodman posited the idea that what Pentecostals were experiencing was a trance state. She believed that Pentecostals were both biologically predisposed to this trance state, out of which they received Spirit baptism, and experienced it as a learned behavior.

Though many others since Goodman (whose research was published in the 1970s) have come forward to dispute the idea that Pentecostal experiences are trance states, what is important is the idea that Pentecostal experience, specifically speaking in tongues, being "slain in the Spirit," "holy dancing," and other supernatural experiences somehow sacralize time by taking people out of the everyday stream of time (chronos) to the time appointed for God to act (kairos).   Specifically, what these activities do is cause a loss of time, intentionally forcing the person to "abide in Christ," slowing down normally very harried people, so that they commune with God on a level not often seen in other Protestant communities.

Sacred Space

The Bonnie Brae house where William Seymour held Bible studies before Azusa Street. (Callsignpink /
The Bonnie Brae house where William Seymour held Bible studies before Azusa Street. (Callsignpink /
Like most non-liturgical Protestants, Pentecostals do not have a defined sense of sacred space. For Pentecostals, sacred spaces have been most evident in historic places for the movement (Azusa Street and Bonnie Brae Street), as well as in places that have healing associated with them, such as healing rooms and revival spaces. Unlike many other Christians, Pentecostals are loathe to place any significance in the material space and place itself, preferring to focus instead on the presence of God and the activity of the Holy Spirit, not wanting to give credit to any objects that may be used as channels for the supernatural.

Certain places merit a pilgrimage, but those places do not have spiritual value in themselves.  They are significant only because they represent markers of sacred historical memory for Pentecostals.  There are other places that can become "sacred" by their use, as were the rooms in houses or churches set aside for healing in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  The rooms themselves, however, are merely utilitarian meeting spaces and have no spiritual value.

Pilgrimages for Pentecostals do not have the same significance that they do for other Christians, though pilgrimages in Pentecostal history are common.  The most significant pilgrimage site was the original Azusa Street Mission from 1906-1909.  People gathered there from around the world to experience what many thought was the last revival before the second coming of Jesus.  When Azusa Street was torn down and eventually replaced by the Japanese American Culture and Community Center in downtown Los Angeles, pilgrimages to the spot where the church used to be continued, reaching a peak during the 100th year anniversary in 2006.  The original meeting house on Bonnie Brae Street receives fewer visitors than the Azusa Street Mission location, but it appears to be much more like a pilgrimage site. Now in the Echo Park area of Los Angeles, it has become a museum of sorts as well as a place for corporate prayer.  This small house on a busy street has been the site of many prayer meetings that have spilled out into the street.  Pilgrims come from around the world to see where the Spirit was poured out.  

Pilgrimages to sacred spaces specific to denominational traditions, such as Aimee McPherson's Angelus Temple (Foursquare Gospel) or Charles H. Mason Temple (Church of God in Christ), offer followers the chance to reconnect with the early icons of the Pentecostal movement by visiting their "spiritual homes." Aimee Semple McPherson was a Canadian-born evangelist who founded the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel in 1924 in Los Angeles.  McPherson was the one of the most important and visible leaders of the Pentecostal movement from the 1920s until her death in 1944.  Along with founding her own denomination, she also was the first woman who owned and operated a radio station in the western U.S. (KFSG).

At Angelus Temple, some of McPherson's personal items are on display in a museum located on the side of the church. There are films and photos, and the room that served as a healing room is kept intact and guarded by tour guides who are there to vouch for the veracity of the healing claims, as well as guard against inappropriate questions regarding McPherson's controversial life.  The healing room reminds one of the pictures of Lourdes, where people have left their crutches, eyeglasses, braces, and wheelchairs behind as a testament to the healing power of the place where the virgin Mary was said to have appeared in 1858 and whose waters are considered to have healing properties.

Mason Temple serves a different purpose in that it is part of the historic black church. Most of early Church of God in Christ (COGIC) history was lost in a fire in 1937, therefore reconstructing that history has become a goal of utmost importance for COGIC scholars. Today Mason Temple in Memphis (there are dozens COGIC churches with that name) is the seat of COGIC leadership and is as important to COGIC members as Azusa Street.  It  hosts the yearly "holy convocation," an installation service for new leaders, and as such is considered to be the "mother" church for the denomination. Its primary significance is due not to its history as a place of origins or healing, but to its relevance for African American Pentecostals.  Mason Temple was the last place Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke before his assassination. Former President Bill Clinton addressed the convocation in 1993. Mainline African American churches, such as the African Methodist Episcopal Church and the National Baptists, who were at the forefront of civil rights work in the 1960s, had historically viewed Black Pentecostals as insufficiently committed to an activist social justice agenda. The MLK speech helped solidify African American Pentecostals' place as a part of the mainstream civil rights movement.

Places where healing takes place, namely healing rooms and revival spaces, can be considered sacred spaces for Pentecostals.  The Toronto Revival of the 1990s revived the concept of healing rooms, and Toronto itself became a part of the Pentecostal pilgrimage circuit. The Toronto healing rooms started as places where specialized times and space for healing prayer occurred outside the confines of the often chaotic revival at the Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship (formerly the Toronto Airport Vineyard).  Healing rooms, inspired by Toronto, grew into a network of hundreds across the U.S. and Canada.

Other healing room movements developed at the same time, and currently there is a network of International Healing Rooms that counts over 1000 affiliates and traces their heritage back to Pentecostal pioneer John. G. Lake. Lake, who received the baptism of the Spirit at Azusa Street in 1907, became a missionary in South Africa where he founded the Apostolic Faith Mission. Later he returned to the U.S. and opened healing rooms in Washington state.

Rites and Ceremonies

Baptism ceremony performed by members of the "Church of God in Christ".
Baptism ceremony performed by members of the "Church of God in Christ".
If there is a central rite in Pentecostalism, it is Spirit baptism.  There are other ceremonies: baptism (more significant in some denominations than others); anointing with oil for installation (appointment of elders and deacons), for ordination, or for healing; foot-washing (more significant in some denominations, and rarely, if ever practiced in others); and of course the Lord's Supper. But none demarcates who is and who is not Pentecostal more than Spirit baptism.  Healing rites and prophetic services also serve as a defining mark for Pentecostals.

When Pentecostalism began to organize around denominations and to institutionalize the rite of Spirit baptism, the initial spontaneity that marked the movement was lost for many Pentecostals.  Spirit baptism is the gift of the Spirit that serves as the entryway for all the other gifts to become operational. As such, the rite became a part of the life of most Pentecostal congregations, though, of late, this rite has become sporadic.  A great many Assemblies of God churches no longer have any regular congregational meeting set up around the promotion of Spirit baptism for the uninitiated.  What typically occurs today is that Pentecostals, like many other Protestant denominations, have segregated the rite of being baptized with the Holy Spirit to an unspecified time during adolescence, when the youth of the church, often at youth convention or a camp, will receive instruction and prayer to receive Spirit baptism.  For those outside this demographic, churches will have a segregated prayer time, usually on a specific day of the week or time of the year, when they will pray and lay hands on people to receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit, but for most American Pentecostal churches, this rite is no longer a frequent occurrence.   

Healing often has a defined ritual structure.  People seeking healing in a charismatic denomination such as the Vineyard, for example, experience the healing ritual in a different way than at an Assemblies of God church service, or a healing revival service of a nondenominational ministry.  At a Vineyard healing service, those involved in the healing ministry will have been trained beforehand; they will know how the service should be conducted, what questions to ask, and what physical manifestations signal that the Holy Spirit is present and working toward healing. These guidelines are drawn from the healing teachings of Vineyard founder John Wimber.

The Vineyard setting codifies such things as diagnostic discernment, where the healing minister essentially takes an informal medical history of the person to determine the extent of the physical ailment as well as discern whether this is possibly a demonic attack.  Once that is completed, the healing minister asks permission to lay hands on the affected area, lays hands on the person, prays, and then remains either silent or prays quietly in tongues, waiting and watching for signs of the Holy Spirit.  The person being prayed for may begin to sway back and forth, may exhibit some sweating, may start to feel hot, and start breathing heavily.  After a few minutes, the minister will offer a hug to the person and the person will go back and sit down.  Unlike other healing settings, the Vineyard rarely uses oil for healing.

In other ritual settings involving healing, there will be phenomena such as being "slain in the Spirit."  It has been suggested that the entire context of healing occurs in part because commonalities become ritualized.  When people are touched in a receiving line at a healing service, for instance, the expectation is that they will fall down.  When healing does not occur, it is often called "therapeutic failure."  This understanding is essential to confirming the idea of healing, and it favors the legitimating agency of the healer and the process while at the same time giving meaning to the failed healing itself.  Such failed expectations impel the sick to continue in prayer, waiting on God's timing and remaining faithful despite the circumstances.

Prophetic services are rites for both the initiated and uninitiated alike. For the initiated, they demonstrate the benefit of the continued pursuit of spiritual gifts, where prophecy is viewed as the most prized of spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 14:5).  For the uninitiated, they demonstrate God's reality and God's desire to help people, and they answer questions people have regarding their lives.  

There are several dynamics to a prophetic service.  First is the veracity of the prophet, his or her specialization (personal words of knowledge or public exhortations), and the prophet's relationship to that church. If the prophet is a church member in good standing who has demonstrated loyalty and sacrifice, the veracity of the prophecies are more likely to be accepted.  If the prophet is a visitor who has a reputation as a prophet and who has been accepted or endorsed by the pastor, he or she too will have little problem convincing people of the validity of the message.  Prophecies that come from people who are unknown, who have not distinguished themselves in church, and who have no one to vouch for their prophetic gift, will not receive the same welcome.

The second dynamic is the prophecy itself, and what people make of these words. Prophecy needs to be communicated in such a way that it is plausible as a prophetic word.  Prophetic words-either the private revelation or the public pronouncements-work because they are spoken in a friendly atmosphere.  Furthermore, where people share a common theological assumption, prophecy is possible.  Within this friendly atmosphere, people are insulated from the skepticism of a non-believing and hostile world.  Prophecy in these contexts is meant to operate very much as it is written about in the Bible; it is a device to stir the believers to deeper faith and to convince unbelievers of the truth of Christianity.  Prophecy, possibly more than Spirit baptism, has become the most common initiatory rite in Pentecostalism.

Worship and Devotion in Daily Life

Worship is very important in Pentecostalism; it is encouraged and often viewed by participants as an entryway into the presence of the Holy Spirit. Worship is not limited to music.  A Pentecostal devotional life includes prayer, Bible reading, praying in tongues, seeking prophetic words from God, or receiving prophetic words for others.  A Pentecostal's devotional life includes all these practices and possibly more, depending on what kind of spiritual gifts the person has or wishes to develop.

Worship for Pentecostals is a sensory experience filled with music, body movements, sounds, dancing, shouting, praying out loud, and speaking in tongues.  Pentecostal worship services also last longer than they do in most other Christian traditions.  In some churches worship lasts two hours or more, beginning with informal prayer, moving onto open praying in tongues, wailing and shouting prayers, kneeling, moments of quiet, and a corporate prayer for the service itself.  A prolonged time of singing and music may then be followed by healing reports, salvation testimonies, more music, and then a sermon.

The music at Pentecostal services depends on the cultural and social make-up of the congregation. In older, more traditional congregations, worship music is taken from hymnals, with the heavy use of pianos, choirs, and organs.  African American Pentecostal churches will imbue the entire service with music, accentuating the worship time with heavy percussive and rhythmic sounds, punctuating sermons with Hammond B organ sounds, and leading the congregation in quieter times of slow, reflexive moments.  Contemporary, white, middle-class churches, attempting to break away from the traditional service and at the same time trying to capture a sense of the ancient Christian ways, have joined with other evangelicals in crafting the Emergent movement. This movement's goals are to capture the essence of the ancient church while remaining focused on revitalizing the contemporary church.

Newer immigrant churches add their distinctive flourishes to worship in order to maintain cultural contact with their homelands. These may include songs from the homeland, indigenous musical styles, visible reminders of home (flags and other cultural artifacts), and food.

Pentecostals have a complicated relationship with the physical body.  It is the "temple of the Holy Spirit" and therefore should not let any of the taint of the world touch it lest it become corrupted, but it is also a carnal body, already corrupted by original sin.  Part of the problem of Azusa Street was not simply that the worship was too loud, but that men and women worshiped together, and that they often fell down under the power of the Holy Spirit in the most "indelicate positions."  What the body does under the power of the Holy Spirit then can become problematic.  People may sway, sweat, jump, shout, dance, groan, fall down, run around, and engage all of their physical faculties in the midst of Pentecostal worship.  Some Pentecostal groups, however, experience little of this kind of demonstrative worship.

Worship, though, is not limited to a Sunday service.  Worship in the form of daily devotions should mark the life of every Pentecostal.  Devotions are intended to bring the person closer to God, develop a constant state of being filled with the Holy Spirit, and serve as a way to practice varied spiritual gifts in a private setting.  Most, if not all, Pentecostal churches will insist that the members of their congregation set aside daily time to devotions.

The private practice of spiritual gifts, such as praying in tongues for a sustained period of time, is viewed as having an extended period of time "talking" to God in the form of a prayer language. In some Pentecostal groups extended periods of praying in tongues are a way to build up faith for a difficult challenge such as healing or financial distress.  This private prayer language serves as a cue to the speaker since, through practice, he or she becomes cognizant of the rhythm, tone, and speed of the prayer language.  If the prayer language changes in these characteristics, this alerts the speaker of a potential urgency to their prayer.  It also signals that the pray-er has progressed to a different level in terms of this spiritual practice and it thus may embolden him or her to move toward other spiritual gifts, especially prophecy.  

Bible reading serves at least two purposes in a Pentecostal's devotional life.  First, it supports the existing theological framework of beliefs about the primacy of the Bible as the sole authority regarding matters of faith.  It also allows readers to engage their spiritual gifts again in terms of allowing the Holy Spirit to direct their reading, to "point" them in the right direction, and possibly to have a word of wisdom given to them, either for a person or for the congregation.  Whatever the devotion, Pentecostals use them in order to deepen their own theological identity, and at the same time, practice the varied spiritual gifts in a personal way that allows for testing and introspection.


Pentecostal iconography is similar to traditional Christian symbols.  Unique to Pentecostalism, and heavily influenced by Holiness roots, are a variety of dress codes, which for clergy symbolize authority, and for lay people symbolize piety and modesty.

Symbols, if they appear at all in Pentecostalism, appear mostly in worship services, where biblical references to flags, banners, and dancing have been updated to reflect the growth of deliverance ministries.  Pentecostals adhere to many of the traditional symbols of Christianity.  The cross, fire, doves, water, and oil are among the many biblical symbols they have adopted.  The iconography of the Holy Spirit, like some other branches of Protestantism, is focused on the tongues of fire image from Acts and the dove.  The fire image is especially interesting since fire is one of the supernatural occurrences reported at many revivals. For example, one of the most famous iconic pictures of noted healing evangelist William Branham (1909-1965) is a photograph in which Branham is pictured with what appears to be a halo of fire around his head. Branham, a healer and a prophet, was among the select Pentecostals whose reputation allowed them to be associated with iconography, not unlike Catholic or Orthodox saints.  

Another bit of traditional iconography that has seeped into Pentecostalism exists only among the African American churches, which allow liturgical dress for their clergy.  These clergy usually dress in robes and stoles, and some use collars and crosses.  While this overtly liturgical dress is reserved for clergy, a more implicit but nevertheless symbolic dress for Pentecostals are the varied dress codes that most, if not all, denominations require of their members.  Dress codes symbolize modesty, uniformity, and piety.  In some Holiness-inspired denominations, men and women are forbidden from wearing jewelry and are generally forbidden from any type of ostentatious clothing, especially clothing viewed as immodest.  

Pentecostals, like many other evangelicals, follow the iconoclastic sentiments of their Reformation precursors, preferring to meet in churches with little or no overt symbolism other than a cross and the occasional tongue of fire or dove symbol.  If there are certain biblical verses that form the core of a denomination's message, those verses may be placed on a wall. There may be a denominational banner or flag along with the other flags, such as the American flag and-at multicultural churches-flags from representative countries.  Banners may be used in church during worship, and can symbolize a myriad of things in Pentecostal churches.  

Banners used in church, especially banners of certain colors, symbolize things the particular ministry wishes to emphasize; if the church wishes to focus on deliverance ministry, for instance, the banner may have God symbolized as the Lion of Judah, and the banner may be draped over a person during prayer time to symbolize a victory over the demonic influence and a breaking of that influence.  For churches wishing to emphasize healing, banners that have anointing oil symbolically running over the sides demonstrate this.  These banners, or smaller versions of them, are draped over the person seeking healing. Larger banners and flags are also used in public professions of faith, when Pentecostals engage in prayer walks around particular buildings, or at certain events that either they support or are opposed to (flags symbolizing the Lion of Judah at an anti-gang rally in Los Angeles, or flags imprinted with certain Bible verses outside Planned Parenthood offices).
Historically, Pentecostals like Aimee McPherson have used banners and flags to express public professions of faith.  These banners are also used to add a different dimension to worship; in particular, dance ministries will often use these flags as an integral part of worship. Dance has always been a part of Pentecostal worship; dancing in the Spirit has been one of the more controversial practices, since it is uncontrollable and often displays more sensuality than Pentecostals are comfortable with.  Because it is a Holy Spirit-inspired practice, however, dancing cannot be forbidden, and so it becomes part of a liturgical practice, complete with costumes and accoutrements such as tambourines and banners, which serve to create the appropriate distance between the sacred and secular art form.