This is an essay that I spent the last 8-ish hours writing.
Who knew that it would be so difficult to write a paper about your own denomination of Christianity.
The Rise and Evolution of Pentecostalism in the Americas
Pentecostalism is a religious tradition that has become extremely popular in the Americas, and around the world, in the 20th century. Many believe that the Pentecostal movement began in April of 1906, at a little church on Azusa Street in Los Angeles, where “Christians began to pray, sing, and speak in languages they did not recognize.” (Prothero, 88) This spiritual revival at Azusa Street was compared to the events of the book of Acts in the Bible, where similar outpourings of the Holy Spirit occurred during the days of the early Church, after the death, resurrection and ascension of Christ.
The second chapter of Acts, verses one to four, which describes the day of Pentecost, the most well known pouring out of the Holy Spirit; “1 On the day of Pentecost all the believers were meeting together in one place. 2 Suddenly, there was a sound from heaven like the roaring of a mighty windstorm, and it filled the house where they were sitting. 3 Then, what looked like flames or tongues of fire appeared and settled on each of them. 4 And everyone present was filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in other languages, as the Holy Spirit gave them this ability.” (NLT)
The exponential growth of Pentecostalism in the Americas is due to three main factors; the promise of healing and prosperity, a charismatic and inclusive worship atmosphere, and being able to offer spiritual experiences that some other denominations do not provide, or emphasize.
One contributing factor to the growth of Pentecostalism in the Americas is the promise of prosperity and healing. In his book, God is Not One, Stephen Prothero states, “…in most countries [Pentecostalism] continues to be associated with the ‘prosperity gospel’ (which says that Jesus calls us to be rich).” (90) He continues on to say that this “prosperity gospel” particularly appeals to Christians living in Third World countries. This promise of economic prosperity appeals to Christians living within these countries due to their lack of monetary wealth. In the modern world, wealth is a measurement of success and importance and because of this, it is something that all humans seek. In An Introduction to Pentecostalism, author Allan Anderson states that “Pentecostalism has become ‘a global vehicle for the restoration of primal hope’, particularly for those estimated 87 percent of Pentecostals ‘who live below the poverty line’” (220) This reiterates Prothero’s analysis of the exponential growth of Pentecostalism.
An excellent example of the growth of Pentecostalism in periphery countries would be the spread of the Pentecostal tradition in South America. Dr. Andrew Atkinson stated in a lecture that there are approximately “141 million Pentecostals, Charismatics, and Neo-Pentecostals in Latin America, as of 2000”. In the same lecture, Dr. Atkinson explained, “A survey of churches in Rio de Janeiro Brazil, found that 61 % of all Churches there were Pentecostal and 710 new churches were founded between 1990-92, 91 % of which were Pentecostal, compared with one new Catholic parish that emerged during that period.” This statistic shows the exponential growth of Pentecostalism in the periphery country of Brazil.
Another appealing aspect of Pentecostalism is the promise of healing. Faith healings through prayer are a very intrinsic part of Pentecostalism. Prothero explains on page 87 that faith healing is one of the “gifts of the Spirit” that one receives with baptism of the Holy Spirit, which Prothero states is “Pentecostalism’s distinctive feature.” (87) Televangelists such as Jim and Tammy Bakker, Jimmy Swaggart, and Pat Robertson (Prothero, 89), have capitalized on this aspect of Pentecostalism, and use it as a part of their ministry. People have appeared to be miraculously healed on national television, which draws a lot of attention.
The second factor that has played a huge part in the spread of Pentecostalism is that the Pentecostal church provides charismatic, and inclusive worship environments. As seen in the video “I’m a Pentecostal” that Dr. Atkinson showed in class, Pentecostalism is most well known for its charismatic music. Although this video was not an entirely accurate presentation of most Pentecostal churches, the effect was the same. The song was infectious, and stuck in students’ minds. Charismatic music is meant to evoke an emotional response, and this type of music in a church allows the congregation to participate in the worship. The emotional response to the music also allows the congregation to engage more deeply in their worship, given that they have developed an emotional relationship with the song being played.
Charismatic preachers are also a large contributing factor to the popularity of Pentecostalism. Stephen Prothero comments on the Pentecostal church, “… its preachers know how to put on a good show.” (87) In this era of television, movies, and the Internet, people are always looking to be entertained. Charismatic preachers appeal to this need by adding a more theatrical element to their sermons. Prothero quotes Abraham Lincoln on his comment about how he likes to see a preacher “act as if he were fighting bees.” (88) Prothero then continues to comment, “Pentecostalism is replete with bee-fighting preachers.” (88) This image encompasses the charismatic preacher perfectly. This type of preaching, which includes audience response, allows the congregation to feel as though they are connected to the message being delivered, and the preacher themselves. Also, because sermons in Pentecostal churches are delivered in creative ways that appeal to our need to be entertained, the important parts of the message that the preacher emphasizes are more likely to resound in the minds of the congregation because it is something that they identify with.
Inclusiveness and pluralism is another distinctive aspect of Pentecostalism. Prothero states on page 87, “as of 1900 just under 80 percent of the world’s Christians were Caucasian”. When Pentecostalism first began at Azusa Street, it was very unconventional in the sense that the services that were held were interracial, as Prothero discusses on page 88. Pentecostalism has continued to be a multi-cultural denomination of Christianity, all through its evolution, up to the present day. Further evidence of Pentecostal multi-culturalism is shown in Prothero’s statement, “Other pockets of Pentecostal strength include Nigeria, the Phillipines, China, Chile, Ghana, South Africa, and South Korea.” (89), in comparison to 1900 when approximately 80 percent of Christians lived in Europe or North America (Prothero, 87)
Another indicative characteristic of Pentecostalism is the fact that Pentecostal churches allow, and even encourage female leadership and ordination. Prothero comments, “Pentecostals have a long history of embracing female clergy, something Catholic and Orthodox churches continue to refuse to do. Most of the kudos for ordaining women have accrued to liberal Protestant denominations such as the Episcopalians… But Pentecostals have had female preachers from the start.” (90) Seeing women in places of leadership in the church provides congregations with the idea that everyone is accepted and has equal opportunities for leadership. This adds to the idea of pluralism, and generates interest in the Pentecostal church.
The third and final largest contributing factor to the success and growth of the Pentecostal church is the fact that Pentecostalism encourages spiritual experiences, that other denominations within Christianity do not provide, or emphasize. An intrinsic aspect of Pentecostalism is Baptism of the Holy Spirit. Stephen Prothero states on page 88, “Pentecostalism accents experience, insisting that the miracles swirling around the early church in the book of Acts are still available to people of faith.”
The Bible describes Baptism of the Holy Spirit this way, “…you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you…” (Acts 1:8, NLT) This power that Jesus is speaking of is spiritual gifts. Spiritual gifts include, speaking in tongues, interpreting tongues, faith healing, discernment, prophesy, and many others. (Mary Fairchild, about.com) These spiritual gifts give the recipient a direct link to God. Prothero agrees, “Pentecostals allow for direct communications from God…” (88)
This gives members of the congregation the sense of a personal Saviour, in Jesus Christ, the idea that they can have a one-on-one relationship with God, through the presence of the Holy Spirit, which is absent in other denominations of Christianity. Pentecostalism allows for congregations to present their requests, praise, and thanks, along with asking for forgiveness of sins through prayer, by themselves, whereas in Catholicism, a congregation member has to go through the process of confession with a priest in order to be absolved of sins. The personal nature of Pentecostalism is particularly attractive.
Emphasis on feeling is very important of Pentecostalism. Prothero discusses the views of one of his students, a Pentecostal; he says, “his faith did not hang on belief. It hung instead on the sort of intense, personal experience that cannot be denied.” (91) This proves that an essential part of Pentecostalism is a direct link between the believer and God. Humans are inherently selfish. The idea that an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving God would take the time to be with someone on a personal level, is extremely appealing.
The Pentecostal tradition has been growing exponentially around the world since its origins in the early 1900’s due to three contributing factors; the promise of prosperity and healing through faith, the charismatic and pluralistic worship environments that the Pentecostal church provides, and emphasis on personal spiritual experience with God, that is somewhat neglected by other denominations within Christianity. Pentecostalism continues to be an extremely popular religious tradition to this day.
Anderson, Allan. An Introduction to Pentecostalism: Global Charismatic Christianity. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge UP, 2004. 220. Print
Prothero, Stephen R. "Ch. 2 - Christianity: The Way of Salvation - The Pentecostal Century." God Is Not One: the Eight Rival Religions That Run the World--and Why Their Differences Matter. 1st ed. New York: HarperOne, 2010. 87-91. Print.
"Acts 1:8 - Passage Lookup - New Living Translation - BibleGateway.com." BibleGateway.com: A Searchable Online Bible in over 100 Versions and 50 Languages. Web. 25 Nov. 2010. <http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=acts 1:8&version=NLT>.
"Acts 2 - Passage Lookup - New Living Translation - BibleGateway.com." BibleGateway.com: A Searchable Online Bible in over 100 Versions and 50 Languages. Web. 26 Nov. 2010. <http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Acts 2&version=NLT>.
Fairchild, By Mary. "Spiritual Gifts - What Are Spiritual Gifts?" Christianity - About Christianity and Living the Christian Life. Web. 26 Nov. 2010. <http://christianity.about.com/od/holyspirittopicalstudy/a/spiritualgifts.htm>.
Atkinson, Andrew. "Latin American Pentecostalism." Religions of the Americas - RE 100. Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo, Ontario. 10 Nov. 2010. Lecture.
I hope you are all sufficiently informed about Pentecostalism, now.