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Church History: A Biblical View
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Church History:
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Part VI - The Modern Age: Lesson No. 45 - Pentecostalism

I . History

Those groups which fall under this heading are characterized by their emphasis upon the present-day occurrence of the supernatural gifts and experiences of Pentecost (Acts 2) - whence their name. Specifically, one may commonly find such groups laying claim to Holy Spirit baptism, tongue-speaking, supernatural healing, prophecy, and other kinds of miraculous phenomena. Worship services are highly emotional. Because of their emphasis upon miraculous gifts (Greek, "charisma"), they are also sometimes called "charismatic."

Pentecostal groups began in the closing years of the Nineteenth Century and multiplied greatly in the Twentieth Century. Pentecostal-type experiences have been reported among various religious groups, even pagan groups, throughout history. However, the roots of the modern Pentecostal movement may ultimately be traced to the Methodist Church and its founder, John Wesley. This is due to the emphasis early Methodism placed upon holiness or sanctification - a post-conversion and emotional experience worked directly by the Holy Spirit upon the heart of an individual to render him perfect and unsusceptible to sin. The sanctification experience of early Methodism became the "Holy Spirit baptism" of the later Holiness and Pentecostal movements. Revivalism, or camp-meetings, on the early Nineteenth Century American frontier, especially among Methodists, was characterized by very emotional preaching and reactions. However, Methodism eventually became too sophisticated and staid and virtually eliminated "sanctification" from its teaching and practice. Nevertheless, there were many Methodists who desired the emotionalism of early Methodism. Initially, they formed bands within older churches, but they soon found it necessary to leave and form independent churches. A great variety and number of sects sprang up as a result of the Holiness Movement of the late Nineteenth Century.

The Pentecostal sects have been dubbed "the left wing of perfectionism." It has also been said that Pentecostalism is frontier revivalism gone indoors. Pentecostal sects are more radical in their employment of what they conceive to be spiritual (miraculous) gifts than the Holiness sects. The beginnings of Pentecostalism proper are traced to the work of a Baptist preacher, R. G. Spurling and his son of the same name. The junior Spurling and- his followers were given refuge in the home of a Methodist preacher who lived on Burger Mountain in Camp Creek, North Carolina. The church which developed there was named the "Holiness Church" and is regarded as the original church of the Pentecostal movement. In 1903 an A. J. Tomlinson joined the group and moved quickly to become its leader. The name was changed to "Church of God" in 1907, and the next year its headquarters were established at Cleveland, Tennessee. The "Church of God" was plagued with divisions during the lifetime of Tomlinson and afterward so that today there are over 200 independent sects which bear the name "Church of God" in some form. Five of them alone are headquartered in Cleveland, Tennessee. Forty-four denominations are attributed to Tomlinson.

Another source of Pentecostalism is the work of Charles F. Parham. Founder of the Bethel Bible College in Topeka, Kansas, in 1900-01 he led a number of his students in seeking the "Pentecostal experience." He is often referred to as "the father of the modern Pentecostal movement." One of his students, a black evangelist by the name of William Seymour, preached the Pentecostal message in the Azuza Street Methodist Church of Los Angeles and started a Pentecostal revival that radiated throughout the country.

Pentecostal groups began to grow and multiply vigorously. Many mergers and divisions occurred. In 1914, 300 delegates from various Pentecostal groups met at Hot Springs, Arkansas to coordinate and propagate Pentecostalism. The result was the Assemblies of God which now constitute the largest Pentecostal body with over one million members. In 1945 a union of two Pentecostal bodies in St. Louis, Missouri resulted in the United Pentecostal Church International. The Neo-Pentecostal (Charismatic) movement among the major Protestant denominations is traced to the claim in 1960 of an Episcopalian rector in Van Nuys, California to the gift of speaking in tongues. The movement has since infiltrated and troubled practically every non-charismatic group.

II. Doctrines

A. Sinless perfection. Some Holiness and Pentecostal groups conceive of "sanctification" as an instantaneous act of the Holy Spirit directly upon the heart of an individual which occurs sometime after his conversion and which renders him perfect and unable to sin. This is sometimes called the "second blessing" or "second work of grace." "Sanctification" is "a setting apart," and there are two types mentioned in the Scriptures: (1) positional, in which one is brought from a position in the world to a position in Christ (I Cor. 1:1,2), and (2) progressive, in which there is a gradual growth in holiness (II Cor. 7:1; II Thess. 5:23). The first type is simultaneous with justification (I Cor. 1:2,30; 6:11), and the second type occurs continuously following conversion. Sanctification is accomplished by the Holy Spirit through faith in the word (Jn. 17:17,19; II Thess. 2:13). Furthermore, the Scriptures teach that one can never reach a state of being incapable of sin (I Cor. 10:12; I Jn. 1:8).

B. Holy Spirit baptism. Pentecostals teach that Holy Spirit baptism is essential to salvation. However, Holy Spirit baptism was promised only to the apostles to enable them to function as apostles (Jn. 14:26; 16:13; Acts 1:1-5). It was neither promised nor given to others. There is only one baptism required of men (Eph. 4:5), and that is water baptism (Acts 8:36; 10:47).

C. Continuance of miracles. Pentecostals teach that miracles are still worked today, but God gave miraculous powers to early Christians to attest to the veracity of their teachings (Acts 14:3; Heb. 2:4). When they served that purpose, they ceased (I Cor. 13:8-10).

D. One divine being. Some Pentecostals believe that "the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit" are merely names of three different manifestations of one divine being. However, the Scriptures teach the one God is composed of three distinct beings (Gen. 1:26; 3:22; 11:7; Matt. 3:16,17; 24:36; Jn. 8:16-18).

III. Exercises (Please click on "File" on your browser window, then "Print" to print out this page.)

(1) (T or F) None has ever done what Pentecostals do.

(2) (T or F) Since Pentecostal sects claim direct guidance of the Holy Spirit, they are characterized by great unity.

(3) (T or F) Holy Spirit baptism was only promised and given to the apostles.

(4) (T or F) Experience and the Scriptures teach that miracles have ceased.

(5) (T or F) The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are three distinct, divine beings making up the one God.

(6) How did Pentecostals get their name?


(7) Pentecostalism may ultimately be traced to . Why?


(8) Who were four men, and what were three places, prominently associated with the beginnings of modern Pentecostalism?

(9) What is the Holiness concept of "sanctification," and how is it contrary to the Scriptures?


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