History of the Pentecostal Movement
The Pentecostal Movement, also known as Classical Pentecostalism, is a Christian-based faith that emphasizes a direct personal experience with God through Baptism, Prayer, and evangelism. There is not one version of Pentecostalism, but all are based on the name derived from the Jewish Feasts of Weeks, commemorating the descent of the Holy Spirit onto the followers of Christ, described in Acts II: “When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one placeâ€¦ all of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them” (Acts 2).
Pentecostalism is an evangelical sect, which focuses on the belief that the scriptures are 100% true, accurate and vital in contemporary life. Pentecostals accept Christ as a personal lord and savior and also that baptism with the Holy Spirit is separate from conversion. It is baptism that allows the spiritual gifts from God (speaking in tongues and divine healing) to come to humans. Pentecostals believe their views are the most correct form of the Apostolic Age of the early church, the one most focused on biblical authority, spiritual gifts, and miracles as part of everyday life (Anderson, 2009).
Many of the first Pentecostals were radical members of the early 20th century Holiness Movement who were energized by revivalism and their anticipation of the Second Coming of Christ, believing that they were living in the end times. The spread of Pentecostalism in the United States was based out of a three-year long revival in Los Angeles in the 1920s, and then divisions on doctrine which resulting in the Trinitarian and non-Trinitarian branches of the faith that comprise over 700 denominations. There is no central authority that governs the movement, but most affiliate for reasons of unity, networking, communication and worship with the Pentecostal World Fellowship (Pentecostal World Fellowship, 2013).
As a global religion, Pentecostalism has almost 300 million members, growing in the developing countries. Pentecostal and Charismatic Christians together form almost 1/2 billion members. Ironically, despite their traditional views, early Pentecostals faced a great deal of criticism and prejudice from other Christians. Even in the difficult decade of the 1930s, many Pentecostals were rejected by the Fundamental Christian Faiths, largely out of the believe of the fundamentalists that the gifts of the Holy Spirit (tongues, prophecy, and faith healing), were no longer part of a Christian tradition. This is called cessationism, and is the belief that these gifts were appropriate and necessary for the early church, but no longer a needed part of daily life (Gaffin, 1996).
Pentecostalism remained rather private during the 1940s and 1950s. Slowly, they began to find spiritual acceptance by the fundamentalist movements. In the 1960s, religion in America saw polar divisions — many rejecting Christianity, but many embracing a more conservative view of charisma and supporting beliefs similar to Pentecostalism. This was also the era of mass evangelism through television, the World of Faith movement, prosperity theology, and mass rallies of thousands of people (Billy Graham, Oral Roberts, Jimmy Swaggert, etc.). In the modern age, Pentecostalism is devoted to spreading the Gospel and teachings of Christ, notably in the developing world. It accents spiritual experience rather than theology, and seems to resonate with many who are confused by globalism, technology, and a strong secular philosophical bent. Those attracted to Pentecostalism are not fully text-based, but do believe the Bible is literary. Pentecostals focus on testimony, ecstatic speech and more worship and community involvement in the sacrament than being extra literary or dogmatic about it (Cox, 1995).
The Pentecostal Movement and Africa
In the global arena, Pentecostals are rather aggressive in their evangelism and proselytism. From its inception, the movement has been characterized by an emphasis on outreach, with the mission of spreading the true word of God one of the high priorities of the faith. To Pentecostals, evangelism means to go forth and reach those who are lost from Chris and restore the power of the Holy Spirit in them. Mission was understood to mean “foreign missions” to places in which they could find a willing audience, as well as a group of individuals who needed educational and practical help as well. Although there are many different subtle interpretations of Pentecostalism, there was a particular sense of culture in Africa that lent the beliefs to the indigenous cultures: spirits, divine intervention, speaking in tongues, prophecy, and the daily and regular manner in which religion integrates with society and culture. This is also relevant in societies that are abjectly poor, are not yet part of the global technological world, and have almost always had Christianity forced through imperialism and colonialism (Kalu, 2008).
The late 20th and early 21st centuries, though, are different for Africa. The colonial powers are gone; and while there remains some strife, revolution and militarism, world attention has moved toward including Africa as an important partner in globalism; largely through democracy. One of the issues within a democratic government, however, is the ability to have freedom of religion and a more egalitarian approach to spirituality. Some even call African Christianity the “third” response to white cultural domination and power, both politically and religiously. Much of this new movement towards a greater communication with the Holy Spirit arose from a wish to have a more personal relationship with God; unlike many of the more dogmatic faiths that were part of colonialism. In addition, having no central authority is attractive to many Africans in that their region, their village, their innate culture can be instituted and run, by Africans for Africans (Anderson, 2009).
Indeed, many Africans see Pentecostalism as an Africanized version of Christianity since it has so much in common with tribal religion. The indigenous Christian Churches provide a way for the local culture to be celebrated, and to be responsive to the “spiritual hunger of the African peoples.” Pentecostalism provides a specific set of weapons that Africans can use to fight against evil, corruption, disease, and discord; as well as celebrating their ancestors and the historical past of the Christian Church, much of which arose in Northern African in the 1st through 3rd centuries. Above all, the idea of spiritual healing, community involvement and shared beliefs brings Africa together in a way that transcends politics (Cox, p. 247).
Indeed, Pentecostalism in the 21st century has become a very prominent feature in both the political and religious cultures of Africa. Pentecostals represent about 12% of Africa’s population, with a 2-4% annual growth. For example, in South Africa, the Pentecostal Apostolic Faith Mission is now as strong as the Dutch Reformed Church, despite being relatively new. Africans do not view religion as separate as many Westerners. This means that, for many Africans, their religion is part of the way to shape both politics and society. Democratization and nationalism fit in well with Pentecostalism, and provide a way to empower and awaken larger parts of society that were ostracized under colonialism (certain tribes, women, etc.). In countries like Uganda, Kenya, Ghana and Nigeria, Pentecostals control a number of radio and television stations. Finally, Pentecostalism is a growing force in Africa and is forcing “top-down” mobilization of culture. These reasons, combined with the Central and Southern African view of finding alternatives to Muslim, makes Pentecostalism a new social force in Africa. With the increasing political and economic importance that Africa may offer, understanding and a willingness to work with Pentecostalism will be necessary for the developing world to embrace (Overview: Pentecostalism in Africa, 2006).
Anderson, A. (2009). Evangelism and the Growth of Pentecostalism in Africa. Centre for Missiology and World Christianity — University of Birmingham. Retrieved from: http://artsweb.bham.ac.uk/aanderson/Publications/evangelism_and_the_growth_of_pen.htm
Cox, H. (1995). Fire from Heaven: The Rise of Pentecostal Spirituality. New York: DaCapo Press.
Kalu, O. (2008). African Pentecostalism: An Introduction. New York: Oxford University Press.
Pentecostal World Fellowship. (2013). Leadership and Ministries. Retrieved from: http://www.pentecostalworldfellowship.org/
Gaffin, D. (1996) “A Cessationist View,” in Are Miraculous Gifts for Today, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Books.
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