By Kenneth B.E. Roxburgh
Special to The Alabama Baptist
In 1906 when Pentecostalism began to emerge, it made up about 1 percent of the Christian world. By the 1960s this had grown to between 8 and 10 million members and by 1981 it had become the major exponent of Christianity. It is estimated that by 2025, about 44 percent of the total number of Christians will be Pentecostal/Charismatic.
Various phrases have been used to classify different expressions of Pentecostalism in the 20th century. They include classical Pentecostals to refer to the movement during the first 60 years of the century. The Charismatic movement is generally used to distinguish the later expression of speaking in tongues from the early 1960s in non-Pentecostal denominations, including both Protestant and Catholic expressions of the movement. The term “third wave” is used to designate streams of renewal that have arisen since the 1980s.
More and more scholars of Pentecostalism suggest the movement had various contributing streams and no one country can claim to originate Pentecostalism, as so many centers of the movement emerged around the world at about the same time. The early growth of Pentecostalism was born of renewal movements, in various communities, especially in the United States and Britain.
One of the major tributaries from which Pentecostalism flowed was the holiness movement of the 18th and 19th centuries. In the Higher Life movement associated with Keswick theology, which began in 1875, a second blessing was encouraged which would initiate a life of holiness and empowerment for Christian service. Pentecostalism, with its emphasis on a subsequent theology of “baptism in the Holy Spirit,” emerged within the specific historical context of Wesleyan Holiness. Baptism in the Spirit was a subsequent experience of the grace of God and sanctification was seen as a prerequisite for such an experience of the Spirit.
Speaking in tongues
Although the events of the Azusa Street Revival under William Seymour from 1906 to 1909 are often seen as foundational for the Pentecostal movement, the experience of speaking in tongues had been evidenced in Charles Parham’s Bible School in Topeka, Kansas, in 1901. However, Cecil Robeck Jr. argues Azusa Street was the birth of the global Pentecostal movement and demonstrates that numerous people who visited Los Angeles went on to promote the movement in different parts of the world.
Reports from The Apostolic Faith, the Azusa Street Revival newspaper, reveal the essence of the Pentecostal missionary vision at the beginning of the 20th century. Pentecostals believed the time was short and that the power of the Spirit had been given to enable a latter-day, worldwide revival where the gospel would be preached in all nations before the Lord would return.
The Azusa Street movement also was the source of the first wave of Pentecostal missionaries. This revival turned a fairly localized and insignificant new Christian sect into an international movement that sent workers to more than 25 nations within two years. Early Pentecostals expressed the view that the result of the Azusa Street Revival was that their experience of Spirit baptism was a “fire” that was going to spread all over the world. Pentecostal believers were convinced that a worldwide revival would precede the imminent coming of Christ. Hundreds of visitors came to see what was happening and to be baptized in the Spirit. Many of these left Azusa Street and began Pentecostal centers in various North American cities and overseas.
Led by Seymour
The principal leader of the early movement was African-American preacher William Joseph Seymour. He led a black Holiness church in Los Angeles in 1906, and he opened the historic meeting in April 1906 in a former African Methodist Episcopal (AME) church building at 312 Azusa Street in downtown Los Angeles.
Seymour led the early movement and conducted 12-hour-long meetings every day for three and a half years. Seymour’s core leadership team was fully integrated with men and women (more than half being women) being responsible for various aspects of the work but Seymour remained in charge. Seymour was spiritual father to thousands of early Pentecostals in North America.
People affected by the revival started several new Pentecostal centers in the Los Angeles area so by 1912 there were at least 12 in the city. Hundreds of visitors from across the continent and around the world came to see what was happening and to be baptized in the Spirit. At least 26 different Pentecostal denominations trace their origins to Azusa Street, including the two largest: the Church of God in Christ and the Assemblies of God.
One feature of the movement was its interracial emphasis. The phenomenon of blacks and whites worshipping together under an African-American pastor seemed incredible to many observers. The ethos of the meeting was captured by Frank Bartleman when he said of Azusa Street, “The color line was washed away in the blood.”
The Protestant Neo-Pentecostal movement began in 1960 in Van Nuys, California, under the ministry of Dennis Bennett, rector of St. Marks Episcopal (Anglican) Church. In 1960 on Passion Sunday he informed his congregation he had been baptized in the Spirit and had spoken in tongues. One further influence was the Full Gospel Business Men’s Fellowship, founded in 1951 in Southern California by Demos Shakarian, which promoted evangelism in the context of Pentecostal renewal. The movement was more closely identified with middle and upper-middle classes across denominational spectrums.
The Catholic Charismatic Renewal movement had its roots in the prayer of Pope John XXIII. This prayer was composed and said on a daily basis throughout the meetings of Vatican II which invoked the coming of the Spirit “to renew your wonders in this our day as a new Pentecost.” It had its beginnings in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 1966 among students and faculty of Duquesne University and the University of Notre Dame in Indiana. Students and faculty members began to speak in tongues as they were baptized in the Spirit. Catholics across the nation heard of the movement and many priests, nuns and others came to the university and became involved in renewal. Renewal groups sprang up across the U.S. with various manifestations of charismatic gifts. There would be readings from Scripture, prophecies and testimonies, praying and singing in tongues and prayer for the laying on of hands for healing or the baptism in the Spirit.
Praying in depth
One prominent Roman Catholic leader from Belgium, Cardinal Joseph Suenens, became involved in the charismatic movements as a result of a visit to North America and interpreted his own baptism in the Spirit as a release of the Spirit already received at baptism, confirmation and the Eucharist. He believed speaking in tongues was a way in which God enabled us to experience His presence and help us to pray in depth. It was a movement often led by lay people, although encouraged by a succession of popes and local bishops. Catholic Renewal continued to be committed to the life of the institutional church, seeking to integrate the more spontaneous singing of charismatic worship songs with the richness of traditional liturgy.
Early Pentecostals were convinced the evidence of being baptized in the Spirit was speaking in tongues. Pentecostal denominations in the world enshrined the initial evidence as the cornerstone of their theologies. In 1916 the Assemblies of God fellowship declared tongues to be the initial physical sign of the baptism in the Holy Spirit. For some Pentecostal leaders this was the ability to speak in a real human language but not native to the speaker. Later Pentecostalism thought of tongues as a special gift to enable the believer to engage in intimate prayer in the presence of God.
However, Neo-Pentecostalism has moved away from stressing the phrase “baptism in the Spirit” as well as “tongues” as being the initial evidence of this reception of the Spirit. Many Pentecostals would agree with Gordon Fee, a prominent Assemblies of God theologian, that “tongues are normal but not normative” in the New Testament.
Healing is an important aspect of the global Pentecostal-Charismatic reformation. Candy Gunther Brown, in her book “Global Pentecostal and Charismatic Healing,” notes that 80 to 90 percent of Christians in the Global South are converted because of divine healing. Healing is defined as physical improvement beyond what would be expected under normal circumstances. Pentecostal Christianity gains many of its adherents from healing events and is an essential marker of the movement. In some areas of the world there is a close association between healing and deliverance from evil spirits (exorcism). In many cultures demons are believed to cause disease, making this association natural.
In the 1980s when the early Charismatic movement was becoming institutionalized, the third wave of renewal arose. This fresh renewal movement produced various groups with well-known leaders such Kenneth Hagin in Tulsa, Oklahoma, as well as Kenneth Copeland.
One prominent leader was John Wimber, who founded Vineyard Fellowships. Wimber’s particular emphasis was on the vital importance of the church demonstrating a whole host of phenomena: spiritual gifts, signs and wonders, healing, prophecy, deliverance and speaking in tongues. The word often used in connection with Wimber is “power.” He believed the church would only grow evangelistically if it was able to manifest the same powerful miracles associated with Jesus and the early Church. For Wimber, the kingdom of God is a kingdom of power which overthrows the power of Satan. It is significant that other issues of the Christian life such as human weakness received scant attention in his writings. His ministry was one which dealt with spiritual warfare and was strongly success-oriented. His own experience of cancer and a failure to be healed of the disease was a crisis of faith within the movement in the late 1990s.
Pentecostalism is the fastest-growing Protestant movement within Christianity in the 21st century. In the U.S., the largest denomination is the Assemblies of God, with a constituency of more than 3 million, the ninth largest denomination in the nation.
EDITOR’S NOTE — Kenneth B.E. Roxburgh is professor of religion at Samford University in Birmingham and serves as pastor for preaching and teaching at Southside Baptist Church, Birmingham.