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English Speaking Protestantism


Doctrines The theology of Pentecostalism is in many respects similar to that of conservative Methodist and Baptist churches. The main difference lies in its emphasis on the doctrine of perfectionalism. Whereas Wesley asserted that the attainment of a holy life and divine assurance was a gradual business which might never be achieved, Pentecostalist churches assert that divine assurance is instantaneous and occurs when a Christian experiences the baptism of the Holy Spirit. This baptism is revealed by worshipers speaking in tongues. This explains the name of the movement which derives from a scriptural reference in Acts 2:1-5 where on the feast of Pentecost the Apostles were filled with the holy spirit and began to talk in other tongues. There are also many Pentecostal churches that believe that those touched by the Holy Spirit can work healing miracles, or even prophesy the future.

History Although the phenomenon known as "speaking in tongues" has occurred on occasion throughout the history of the church, it was not till the turn of this century that it became the nucleus of a type of church. In the late nineteenth century those Holiness churches searching for a second work of grace after conversion quite often were associated with speaking in tongues and spirit healing. One person who advocated such doctrines was a former Methodist preacher, Charles Parham, who taught his students to expect a baptism of the "Holy Ghost and fire". One of his students was William Seymour, a Black Holiness minister who founded a mission on Azusa Street, Los Angles in 1906. The meetings held there, which coincided with the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake, sparked a local religious revival marked by racial harmony, speaking in tongues, and enthusiastic services. The newspapers of the time gave this unusual revival considerable attention with the result many people travelled to the church on a spiritual pilgrimage and when they left spread this new style of worship in their homes.
It was symbolism and the style of the dramatic supernatural events of these services, rather than theological subtlety, which made them successful. At first these ideas spread mainly in Holiness churches and individual congregations, but in 1914 a national organisation was formed, the Assemblies of God, which today is the largest Pentecostalist group. Besides Holiness churches, the loose structure of Baptist churches, and their traditional evangelicalism meant many Baptists soon adopted these new ideas. This gave rise to one of the main divisions between Pentecostal churches, since those from the Holiness tradition claimed that there were three stages in spiritual growth; conversion, Holiness style assurance, and spirit baptism; while those from the Baptist tradition said there were two, conversion, marked by adult baptism in water and a spirit baptism. There are also a considerable number of Pentecostal churches, whose name usually involves the phrase "Church of God", that deny the trinity. The Black Pentecostal churches also have their own separate organisations.
Thus there are already a bewildering multitude of different churches which now can be found across the world. This is perhaps due to the fact many television evangelists have discovered that the sensational nature of Pentecostal worship makes it ideal viewing. Even mainstream churches, which were at first disdainful of Pentecostal "theatrics", are now being strongly influenced by them, calling them "charismatic" services, since this style of worship is particularly appealing to the young people they want so desperately to attract. Pentecostalism is an important part of a powerful counterattack against modern secularism and the liberal theology which downplayed the importance of the supernatural in the Christian religion.

Symbols The dramatic symbolism of speaking in tongues, and spiritual healing are carried out in a theatrical yet down to earth manner, rather than in a ritualistic atmosphere. However, there have been some curious mixtures of High Church rituals and Pentecostal style evangelism in the Church of England recently. Clearly the enthusiastic singing, dancing and audience involvement in the Pentecostal service shows the strong influence of the style of Black church services. (See African Episcopal Methodist Church.) The other main influence on Pentecostalism, from the Baptists, means there may also be large scale fonts in their churches.

Adherents Pentecostal Churches world-wide have about 22 million members. The Assemblies of God had about 75,000 members in the UK in 1993 and had 2,257,846 members in the USA in 1995 (Whitaker, 1995, 427; World Almanac, 1995, 730).

Main Centre
 Assemblies of God, 1445 Boonville Ave., Springfield MO 65802, USA.