Denominations: Pentecostals

Ascertaining accurate total numbers is difficult. Pentecostalism is not a single denomination, but an umbrella term which includes many denominations “The World Christian Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (2020) currently counts 644 million Pentecostals/Charismatics worldwide” (The Society for Pentecostal Studies at 50 Years, brill.com). Notice that this count combines Pentecostals and Charismatics. “According to a Pew Forum analysis of estimates from the center for the study of global Christianity (CSGC) at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, there are about 279 million Pentecostal Christians and about 305 million Charismatic Christians in the world” (Christian Movements and Denominations, pewforum.org). [Pentecostals refer to members of denominations or independent churches which also believe in continued spiritual gifts, e.g. tongue speaking, prophecy, miraculous healing. Charismatics refer to members within non-Pentecostal churches who are Pentecostal to some degree in belief and practice. Certain churches have within them a charismatic movement, e.g. Roman Catholic Church].

In the U.S.A., there is an estimated 15-20 million Pentecostals (What’s an Apostolic Christian and Why is Kim Davis’ Hair So Long? by Emily McFarlan Miller, September 9, 2015, usatoday.com, referencing H. Vinson Synan of Regent University in Virginia). The largest Pentecostal Churches in the U.S.A. are: (1) Church of God in Christ (COGIC) is headquartered in Memphis, Tennessee. It is said to have 6 million members nationwide (COGIC leaders, members take hard hit from Covid-19 nationwide, April 24, 2020, NBC, WMA, Memphis, actionnews5.com). It is said to have 7.7 million members worldwide (COGIC Church Hit Hard By Coronavirus Deaths Among Its Leadership by Madison J. Gray, April 21, 2020, bet.com). (2) The Assemblies of God (AG) is headquartered in Springfield, Missouri. It is said to have more than 3 million members in this country (statistics – Assemblies of God (USA), ag.org). The World Assemblies of God Fellowship is said to have more than 68 million adherents worldwide (Five AG Stats You Need to Know, influencemagazine.com). The AG was formed out of the COGIC in 1914. The separation was along racial lines. The AG was primarily white. The COGIC was primarily black (church split – COGIC and Assemblies of God, Ready to Harvest YouTube). There are many more Pentecostal denominations in the United States, including: Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee); Church of God (Anderson, Indiana); International Church of The Foursquare Gospel; United Pentecostal Church International (UPC or UPCI); Church of God of Prophecy, et. al.

History

There have been those who have claimed to possess supernatural gifts, throughout history. (1) The Montanists. “The claim of the ‘gift of tongues’ was common among the Montanists. The heretical group was named for Montanus (c. A.D. 156), who was a priest of Cybele before his conversion. He would reach a state of ecstasy and gave (sic) forth utterances. These utterances were supposed to be oracles of God. Montanus claimed that the Holy Spirit spoke directly through him” (Jimmy Jividen, Glossolalia from God or Man?, p. 63). Montanus had two female prophetesses who worked with him, Priscilla and Maximilla. They prophesied that Christ would soon return to earth and reign from Pepuza, Phrgia, Asia Minor for a thousand years. When this did not occur, many turned away. (F.W. Mattox, The Eternal Kingdom, pp. 77-78; Ryan Reeves, Christian Apologists and Early Heresies YouTube). (2) The Second Great Awakening. At Cane Ridge, Kentucky in 1801 a great religious gathering occurred, with perhaps 30,000 attending. “Emotional excitement ran through the crowd producing physical reactions of various kinds. Some fell to the ground as though dead, others experienced the ‘jerks,’ danced, laughed, ran or sang. This supposedly was a manifestation of the Holy Spirit” (F.W. Mattox, p. 313). Unity was desired, but not achieved. “When (Barton W.) Stone stressed the fact that sinners had the power to turn to Christ a number of strong Calvinistic preachers opposed him” (F.W. Mattox, p. 313).

The modern history of Pentecostalism/Charismatic movement may be understood in three waves. These are:

  1. Classic Pentecostalism

The first wave dates to the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. Two characters are prominent in this history: (a) Charles Fox Parham (1872-1929). He was raised a Methodist. He attended Southwestern Kansas College, a Methodist College, to prepare for the ministry. He did not complete his education. However, he did serve as a temporary Methodist pastor (1893-1895). Dissatisfied with his experience, he left the Methodist Church. He believed that there needed to be a revival which “could only be achieved by another outpouring of the Holy Spirit (Encyclopedia Britannica, Vol. 14, p. 31 (c) 1979). He began to travel to various places to investigate rumors and reports of supernatural healings. In October, 1900, he opened Bethel Bible College in Topeka, Kansas. About 40 students enrolled. He had the students study the topic: Baptism of the Holy Spirit. On January 01, a student named Agnes N. Ozman is said to have started speaking in tongues. On January 03, more are said to have done so, including Parham. Some students were not pleased and left the school. However, Parham was soon holding large Pentecostal meetings in Kansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, and Texas. Britannica says, “The roots of the modern Pentecostal movements go back to a small religious school called Bethel Bible College in Topeka, Kansas” (ibid).

(b) William Joseph Seymour (1870-1922). In December 1905, Parham opened another Bible College in Houston, Texas. Seymour met Parham and asked to attend his school. He was not allowed a seat due to the race issue; but he was allowed to listen to the lessons through an open door or window (William Joseph Seymour Biography, noteablebiographies.com). Seymour had bounced around religiously. He was sprinkled as an infant in the Catholic Church. He became a Methodist in 1895. He was ordained a minister in the Church of God in 1902. Then, he studied under Parham, where he connected baptism of the Holy Spirit with tongue-speaking, and not just holiness.

Seymour moved to Los Angeles, California in 1906 in order to work with a small holiness church. Due to his teachings on tongue-speaking, he literally found himself locked out of the church building, in his first month. He and a some others began to meet in the house of Mr. and Mrs. Richard Asberry on 214 North Bonnie Brea Street. A few, it is said, began to speak in tongues, on April 09, 1906. Then, on April 12, Seymour is said to have begun to do so, for the first time.

The group soon outgrew the house and moved into an unused AME church building, located at 312 Azusa Street. The Azusa Street Revival (1906-1909) became a mecca for the Pentecostal movement. The assemblies were interracial, unusual for the time. “Today, the following groups in the United States look to Apostolic Faith Mission that stood at 312 Azusa Street as having a role in their very existence: Church of God in Christ; International Church of the Foursquare Gospel; the Assemblies of God; the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World; the United Pentecostal Churches; Church of God (Cleveland, TN); the International Pentecostal Holiness Church; the Vineyard Christian Fellowship; Victory Outreach; the Macedonian International Bible Fellowship; the Apostolic Fe en Christo Jesus; and, the Apostolic Church of Jesus Christ” (Azusa Street Mission, 312azusa.com).

2. Charismatic Renewal

The second wave comes in the 1950’s and 1960’s. It seems to start in California. It occurs within non-Pentecostal churches. “In 1959, Dennis Bennett, an Episcopalian clergyman, announced to his congregation in Van Nuys, California, that he had been baptized with the Holy Spirit and had spoken in tongues” (The Three Waves of Charismatic Christianity by Angus Steward, cprc.co.uk). It occurred within Catholicism in the 1960’s (Catholic Pentecostals by Kevin and Dorothy Ranaghan). Charismatics, unlike many Pentecostals, do not believe that one must speak in tongues or manifest gifts of the Spirit (Ranaghan, p. 220; The Three Waves of Pentecostalism, ligonier.org). This wave does not have its roots in holiness churches. Therefore, Charismatics may dress differently than classical Pentecostals. They may wear makeup and cut their hair (Ryan Reeves).

3. Neo-Charismatics/Neo-Pentecostals

The third wave dates to the 1980’s. This wave emphasizes health and wealth (ligonier.org). The third wave emphasizes physical healing, inner healing, deliverance from evil spirits, prophecy and other signs and wonders more than tongue speaking (Committee to Study Third Wave, Pentecostalism II, p. 6, crcna.org). Many of today’s televangelist are Neo type Charismatics/Pentecostals.

[Among the works consulted for history: Jimmy Jividen, Glossolalia; F.W. Mattox, The Eternal Kingdom; Christian Apologists and Early Heresies by Ryan Reeves YouTube; Encyclopedia Britannica; Charles Fox Parham, encyclopedia.com; Who Was Charles Parham, gotquestions.org; William Joseph Seymour Biography, noteablebiographies.com; William J. Seymour, ihopkc.org; Pentecostalism: WilliamSeymour, christianhistoryinstitute.org; William Seymour and the History of the Azusa Street Outpouring, revivial-library.org; What was the Azusa Street Revival?, gotquestions.org; The Azusa Street Revival – 1906, apostolicarchives.com; Azusa Street Revival, blackpast.org; Miracle on Azusa Street, nytimes.com; The Influence of Azusa Street, scielo.org.za; Azusa Street Mission, 312azusa.com; The Three Waves of Charismatic Christianity by Angus Steward, cprc.co.uk; Catholic Pentecostals by Kevin and Dorothy Ranaghan The Three Waves of Pentecostalism; ligonier.org; Committee to Study Third Wave Pentecostalism II, crcna.org].

Authority

COGIC states: “We hold the word of God to be the only authority in all matters and assert that no doctrine can be true or essential, if it does not find a place in this word” (What We Believe, COGIC.org).

AG states: “The Bible is our all-sufficient rule for faith and practice” (Assemblies of God 16 Fundamental Truths, ag.org).

Beliefs and Practices

It is impossible to cover what all varieties of Pentecostals believe and practice. “Pentecostalism” is a very broad umbrella term.

However, there are some common traits. Most are Trinitarian (However, there are Oneness Pentecostals, e.g. UPC). Most believe in the infallibility of Scripture. Many believe that man is born in sin. Most believe that man must repent and believe in Jesus to be saved. Most practiced water baptism by immersion. Most believe in the modern-day baptism of the Holy Spirit. Some practice feet-washing. Most are premillennial in eschatology.

Let’s consider what the two largest Pentecostal denominations in the United States say.

1. Salvation

COGIC: “We believe that man is saved by confessing and forsaking his sins, and believing on the Lord Jesus Christ” (What We Believe, cogic.org).

AG: “Salvation is received through repentance toward God and faith toward the Lord Jesus Christ” (16 Fundamental Truths, ag.org).

2. Water Baptism

COGIC: “We believe that water baptism is necessary as instructed by Christ… However, we do not believe that water baptism alone is a means of salvation, but an outward demonstration that one has already had a conversion experience and has accepted Christ as his personal Savior. As Pentecostals, we practice immersion…” (What We Believe, cogic.org).

AG: “The ordinance of baptism by immersion is commanded by the scriptures. All who repent and believe on Christ as Savior and Lord are to be baptized” (16 Fundamental Truths, ag.org).

3. Lord’s Supper

Both believe that the Lord’s Supper is symbolic of Jesus’ suffering and death for us (cogic.org; ag.org). They do not state the frequency that it is offered.

4. Feet washing

COGIC: “Feet washing is practiced… These services are held subsequent to the Lord’s Supper; however its regularity is left to the discretion of the Pastor in charge” (What We Believe, cogic.org).

5. Eternal Security

AG: “The Bible also teaches that believers who have accepted Christ as Savior can be lost if they repeatedly disregard the teaching of scripture, continue to resist the conviction of the Holy Spirit, and finally reach the point where they turn away from their Savior” (Assurance of Salvation, ag.org).

6. Holy Spirit Baptism

COGIC: “We believe that the Baptism of the Holy Ghost is an experience subsequent to conversion and sanctification and that tongue-speaking is the consequence of the baptism in the Holy Ghost… we… believe that a Holy Ghost experience is mandatory for all men today” (What We Believe, cogic.org).

AG: “All believers are entitled to and should ardently expect and earnestly seek… the baptism in the Holy Spirit and fire” (16 Fundamental Truths, ag.org).

7. Divine Healings

COGIC: “The Church of God in Christ believes in and practices Divine Healing” (What We Believe, cogic.org).

AG: “Divine healing is an integral part of the gospel. Deliverance from sickness is provided for in the atonement, and is the privilege of all believers” (16 Fundamental Truths, ag.org).

8. Premillennialism

AG: “The second coming of Christ includes the rapture of the saints, which is our blessed hope, followed by the visible return of Christ with his saints to reign on earth for one thousand years” (16 Fundamental Truths, ag.org).

Organization

1.COGIC is headquartered in Memphis, Tennessee. It’s government is episcopal in nature. The current presiding Bishop is J. Drew Sheard (J. Drew Sheard elected as COGIC’s New Presiding Bishop, Katherine Burgess, Commercial Appeal, March 21, 2021, commercialappeal.com).


2. AG is headquartered in Springfield, Missouri. It’s government is more congregational in nature. There are two types of AG churches. General Conference affiliated churches are autonomous. District affiliated churches, “are those which have not yet developed to the point where they qualify for full autonomy. All assemblies are required to adhere to the statements of fundamental truths and a biblical pattern of conduct” (structure, ag.org).

About Bryan Hodge

I am a minister and missionary to numerous countries around the world.
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