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The Charismatic Movement
See W. J. Hollenweger, The Pentecostals (1972); V. Synan, ed., Aspects of Pentecostal-Charismatic Origins (1975); R. M. Anderson, Vision of the Disinherited (1979); D. W. Dayton, Theological Roots of Pentecostalism (1987); S. M. Burgess and G. B. McGee, ed., Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements (1988); H. Cox, Fire from Heaven (1994); G. Wacker, Heaven Below (2001); R. J. Stephens, The Fire Spreads: Holiness and Pentacostalism in the American South (2008).
Pentecostalism(religion, spiritualism, and occult)
When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. (Acts 2:1-4)
It was the birthday of the Christian Church. The believers had gathered together to celebrate the Jewish feast day of Pentecost (see Judaism, Calendar of), and reports of what happened spread throughout the city of Jerusalem and, later, the whole world. Peter delivered the first Christian sermon. Three thousand people were reported to have been baptized on that day. And more flocked to join the new movement, for "the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved."
Skip now to the year 1906. The Methodist Church is sponsoring a revival meeting at the Azusa Street Mission in Los Angeles, California. Those who attended later reported that it was as if Pentecost had happened again. The people were gripped by a force that felt "like a violent wind"; "They began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them." People were healed. People were converted. People felt they "were filled with the Holy Spirit."
Pentecostalism was born.
At first it was experienced in the rural south. Robert Duvall's brilliant 1997 movie, The Apostle, captures it perfectly. Pentecostalism was about revivals held in tents. There was singing, dancing in the aisles, and down-home preaching that was an art form in itself. Heavily influenced by the freedom of African American worship style, the preacher talked to the congregation, and the congregation answered right back. Not just the occasional "Amen!"—this was full-throated, throw-yourself-in-and-participate conversation. People moved. They were "slain in the Spirit," fainting dead away when the preacher put his hand on their forehead. No one looked at the clock. No one cared what time it was. The service was over when the Spirit stopped moving.
Pentecostalism is probably most famous for its practice of glossolalia, speaking in tongues. To outsiders, it sounds like gibberish—nonsense syllables. Sometimes it sounds like that to insiders, too. There is a difference of opinion as to what it means. To believers, it is often thought to be a heavenly language only God can understand. The Apostle Paul wrote about "tongues of men and of angels" (1 Corinthians 13). In other words, glossolalia is the language spoken by the angels in heaven.
But in the Bible it seems to be real languages that people could actually understand. On the day of Pentecost, for example, people had come together from many different countries to celebrate the holiday in Jerusalem. They all heard the Gospel proclaimed in their own language. Paul even put some boundaries around the use of glossolalia in the church. He said that when it occurs, only a few people should do it, one at a time, and not at all unless there is an interpretation given.
Some conservative theologians have theorized that "tongues speaking" was a foundational gift, needed at the beginning, to quickly reach a lot of people who would not otherwise have understood the apostle's language. So when the apostle Paul wrote, again in 1 Corinthians 13, "When the perfect comes, that which is imperfect shall pass away," he was saying that when the ability to provide translations had been perfected, as it has in our technological era, there would no longer be any use for the gift of glossolalia, and it would pass away.
But if that is the case, what is happening in Pentecostal churches when people speak in tongues today?
Well, say the doubters, it's just gibberish. Other religions do it, too. And there is even some clinical evidence that it can be learned and practiced until it becomes almost another language.
But believers disagree. There is no denying the fact that Pentecostal Christians believe glossolalia is a spiritual gift from God, proof of the "infilling" of the Holy Spirit. Some denominations do not even allow people to preach or become members until they demonstrate the ability to speak in tongues. It's proof that they have been both "saved" and "sanctified." Salvation is the first blessing. Sanctification, being cleansed by the Holy Spirit, is the second.
Pentecostalism has changed over the years. From the poor and rural South, it moved uptown in the charismatic movement (see Charismatic Movement) and into mainstream denominations such as the Assemblies of God (see Assemblies of God). But there are still parts of the country that look forward to the day the evangelist comes to town, sets up his tent or builds a "Holiness Temple," and invites them to "hit the sawdust trail," to walk down the aisle (usually consisting of sawdust spread on the ground under the revival tent) to get "saved" and "receive the blessing" of speaking in tongues.