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Pentecostalism, worldwide 20th–21st-century Christian movement that emphasizes the experience of Spirit baptism, generally evidenced by speaking in tongues (glossolalia). The name derives from Pentecost, the Greek name for the Jewish Feast of Weeks, which falls on the fiftieth day after Passover. On this day the Holy Spirit descended upon the first Christians enabling them to “speak in other tongues” (see Acts 2:1–4). Besides glossolalia, Pentecostals promote other gifts of the Spirit (charismata), including faith healing, prophecy, and exorcism. Ecstatic experience remains the unifying element of the movement. Pentecostals in America are generally conservative evangelical in their beliefs (see fundamentalism), but no unified stance on matters of doctrine and polity exists among adherents. Pentecostal churches are also strong in Indonesia, sub-Saharan Africa, and parts of Latin America and Europe. Pentecostal churches around the world cooperate through the Pentecostal World Conference, first held in Sweden (1939). The American counterpart to the conference is the Pentecostal-Charismatic Churches of North America; it is not a policy-setting organization.

“Classical” Pentecostalism

What is sometimes called classical Pentecostalism grew out of the late 19th-century Holiness Movement in the United States. The Holiness preacher Charles Fox Parham began preaching (1901) to his Topeka congregation that speaking in tongues was objective evidence of baptism in the Spirit. After Parham's Los Angeles–based Apostolic Faith mission became the center of a great revival (1906), the movement quickly spread around the world. Over the next two decades the movement split along doctrinal and racial lines. Of the many Pentecostalist denominations in the United States today, the largest are the Church of God in Christ, with about 5.5 million members (2000); the Assemblies of God, with about 2.5 million members (2000); the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World, with about 1.5 million members (2000); and the Church of God (Cleveland, Tenn.), with about 870,000 members (2000).

The Charismatic Movement

A second form of Pentecostalism arose in the 1960s after many non-Pentecostals became aware of Pentecostalism through an earlier Pentecostal revival organized by faith-healing evangelists (notably Oral Roberts). The formal origin of the new Pentecostalism or charismatic movement, as it is often called, is traced to Dennis Bennett, an Episcopal minister who declared to his congregation in Van Nuys, California (1961) that he was speaking in tongues. Following Bennett's confession the charismatic movement appeared in nearly all the Protestant denominations, the Roman Catholic church, and, to a lesser extent, in Eastern Orthodox communions. With the support of the Full Gospel Business Men's Fellowship International, founded (1951) to provide lay support for faith-healers, the charismatic movement spread throughout the world.

Other Offshoots

A third type of Pentecostalism consists of independent schismatic offshoots of the mission churches and wholly indigenous sects which adopt or tolerate beliefs and practices such as ancestor worship and polygamy. These Pentecostals, mostly nonwhites, abound in Africa, Latin America, and Asia. Pentecostalism has attracted the poor, minorities, and the dispossessed, although it is not limited to these groups. It has also afforded a prominent role to women leaders.


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).

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(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.

The Religion Book: Places, Prophets, Saints, and Seers © 2004 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
For the origins of this message, see Donald Dayton, Theological Roots of Pentecostalism (Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow, 1987).
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McGrath's account, especially of the rise of Pentecostalism? First, the need for an emotional as well as an intellectual element in evangelization and catechesis, without losing sight of the role of reason that Pope Benedict has accentuated; second, recognition of the importance of the local Christian community or parish, without neglect of the diocese or universal church; third, awareness of the necessity for regular adaptation to changing circumstances along with gratitude for the authority that keeps adaptation within acceptable bounds.
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Since 1906, pentecostalism and the ecumenical movement which had one of its early roots in the World Missionary Conference in Edinburgh in 1910--have basically gone their separate ways.
Particularly in the sections on the upsurge of Pentecostalism, I wondered momentarily if I had strayed into the realm of fiction.
For example, in traditional terms he identifies four approaches to the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus that have shaped Christology: "1) the incarnational Christology of the early Church and Catholicism; 2) the theology of the cross of Protestantism, especially of the Lutheran tradition; 3) the resurrection and ascension Christology of Eastern Orthodoxy; 4) the empowerment Christology of Pentecostalism and the Charismatic movements." Within Anglicanism one finds the presence of all four, separately embraced or in combination.