It is hard to discuss something so broad and nebulous as Pentecostalism, and those who think it’s simple will give simplistic responses. Nowhere is Pentecostalism codified as in a creed book. Trying to nail down Pentecostalism is like trying to nail Jell-O to a wall. There is so much within what is called Pentecostalism that is not only different, but contradictory. Much of it depends upon the when and where within their timeline.
Although it has root in the 1800s, Pentecostalism is basically a 20th century, and now 21st, phenomenon. There were no Pentecostals on the Mayflower. No Charismatics signed the Declaration of Independence. And there were no tongue speakers or faith healers who fought in the Civil War.
The Pentecostal Movement
Pentecostalism develops in three progressive stages. The first is what is simply called The Pentecostal Movement, which spans the turn of the century to about the end of the Great War. Its roots go back to the Second Great Awakening, and specifically to the Revival Movement and the Holiness Movement. The second of these was characterized by women who didn’t cut their hair, dressed plainly and modestly, and who wore no jewelry or make up. Some of this can be seen today in pockets of Pentecostalism. The initial Pentecostal Movement was a reaction to the secularization and materialism of Darwinian evolution. They wished to restore the world to a sense of the moral, but more important, the supernatural.
Because of the Pentecostal Movement, several new denominations were introduced. There are four which remain as the most prominent. The first is the Church of God of Prophecy, which can be traced back to 1907. Next is the Holiness Pentecostal Church, which started up in 1911. Soon the Assemblies of God began in 1914. The Foursquare Gospel branched off from the Church of God of Prophecy in 1923. To be sure, there are others, but these are still the most familiar in our time.
The second stage is called the Charismatic Renewal of the 1950s and 1960s. The difference between Pentecostal and Charismatic is basic. Pentecostalism results in denominations, four of which were mentioned in the last paragraph. Charismatics are individuals who remain within mainstream denominations. There are Charismatics within the Catholics, Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, and most religious bodies.
Charismatics are likely the minority of any congregation, found in pockets, but usually get along with non-Charismatic members. Unlike many Pentecostalists who insist tongue speaking is indispensable for salvation, and hence, pressure other people to seek it out, Charismatics do their thing but rarely look down on non-Charismatic friends within their congregations.
The Charismatic Revival got its big push through Campus Crusade movements that swept over academia following the Second World War. It served a psychological need for the children of war, but took the form of religious practice. It provided a false sense of peace for those discomforted in their upbringing by man’s inhumanity to man, the cruelty of war coming over their theatre matinee screens, and for many sense of loss from losing a father, brother, cousin, or uncle to WW2 or the Korean Conflict.
The third stage, known as Neo-Charismatic, began in the 1980s and continue to the present. It introduced four new components to the world of Pentecostalism. It could be argued that these are all four parts of the same system and not four distinct features. The first is the rise of the Televangelist. The second, and close to it, is the advent of the health and wealth gospel. Send money to the TV preacher and God will make you rich. The third is the birth of the mega-church, autonomous and non-denominational, even though they are like Holiday Inns – one is like every other. The fourth is an introduction of Premillennialism. Many TV preachers are finding faux-fulfillment of prophecy in every bit of news. This amends their message to one where you need to send in your money before it’s too late!
What began with the renouncement of the world with the Holiness Movement has morphed into the gross worldliness of the mega-church, and the prosperity gospel. It’s clear why it’s difficult to put Pentecostalism in a box. How can one single thing contain everything from women with modest dress and no make up to Tammy Faye Bakker? Through all of its shape-shifting and false appearances, there some basics to Pentecostalism. It emphasizes the emotional, the subjective, and the personal experience over the rational, and it holds to modern-day miracles with an emphasis on tongue speaking and faith healing.