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Pentecostals, Charismatics, and the Third Wave. Who Believes What? Part One

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I recently read an article on-line that referred frequently to people who identify as Pentecostal. In the same article reference was made to Charismatics, as if to suggest these two are one and the same. Although not mentioned by name in this article, people also are often heard referring to the Third Wave. What do these labels mean? To whom do they refer?

It’s important that we know the difference, assuming there is any, among these three related groups of Christians. After all, recent studies reveal that collectively they comprise approximately 500,000,000 individuals. That’s half a billion people! And experts tell us that the number is increasing at a fast pace.

The Roots of Modern Pentecostalism

The theological foundations of modern Pentecostalism can be traced primarily to Methodism and the thinking of John Wesley. Vinson Synan refers to Wesley as “the spiritual and intellectual father of modern holiness and Pentecostal movements” (The Holiness-Pentecostal Movement in the United States [Eerdmans, 1971], 13). F. D. Bruner writes:

“Methodism is the most important of the modern traditions for the student of Pentecostal origins to understand, for 18th century Methodism is the mother of the 19th century American holiness movement, which, in turn, bore 20th century Pentecostalism. Pentecostalism is primitive Methodism's extended incarnation" (A Theology of the Holy Spirit [Eerdmans, 1977], 37).

It was Wesley's views on sanctification that contributed most to the later emergence of Pentecostal doctrine. Wesley divided sanctification into several stages, each of which represented a different and higher level of salvation through which a believer passes.

The first stage is that of prevenient grace which is but the beginning of a deliverance from a blind and unfeeling heart. This was also called assisting grace. The second stage is that of convincing grace which is properly the first real move to salvation. The evidence of convincing grace is repentance.

The third stage is that of entire sanctification. This is a gift of God whereby one is cleansed from sin instantaneously. This sanctification, however, is not absolute, for perfection pertains only to God. Nor does it make men infallible, for the body is still subject to decay and death. It consists rather in perfect love and pertains primarily to one's motives. It is not constitutional. It may be increased and improved upon, but may be lost if diligence diminishes. Involuntary transgressions due to the imperfections of the body are traceable to the mortality and limitations of being a creature and are not properly regarded as sin. Christian perfection, then, consists in the purification of one's motives; mistakes and acts of ignorance are not regarded as inconsistent with a state of perfection.

The fourth stage is that of progressive entire sanctification in which one experiences a continuation of perfection, i.e., a deeper development of it. This is growth in maturity, until one reaches the final stage. The fifth stage is final glorification.

Charles Finney's (1792-1876) contribution to what would come to be known as Pentecostalism was two-fold: (1) His personal testimony to having experienced a post-conversion baptism of the Holy Spirit. (2) Equally important was Finney's evangelistic methodology, which relied heavily on steps taken to arouse powerful emotional reactions in his hearers. This has led Bruner to conclude that “Finney's influence on subsequent Pentecostalism may be said to have been, in fact, more in the realm of form and temperature than in the realm of content and ideas” (41).

Bruner makes the point that “from Methodism through American revivalism and the person and work of Charles Finney . . . the line is a straight one that leads through the holiness movement directly into Pentecostalism” (42). The holiness movement, says Bruner, “seems to have arisen from a variety of causes, principal of which were the demoralizing after-effects of the American Civil War, the dissatisfaction of many within Methodist churches with the 'holiness,' or the adherence to Wesleyan perfectionist doctrine of the Methodist Church, and a corresponding concern for the advance of modern liberal views in theology and of wealth and worldliness in the church as a whole. The theological center of the holiness movement, true to its name and its Wesleyan heritage, was a second experience, specifically a conversion into Scripture holiness, sanctification, or as it was often called, perfect love. This center assured the subsequent experience an importance it was later to assume in Pentecostalism. It was directly from the holiness movement, for instance, that Pentecostalism adopted the use of the expression the baptism in the Holy Spirit for its second (or third) Christian experience” (42-43).

The movement was itself birthed within the Methodist church in 1867. The first camp meeting was arranged by 13 Methodist ministers in Vineland, New Jersey, July 17-26th. According to Synan: “Little did these men realize that this meeting would eventually result in the formation of over a hundred denominations around the world and indirectly bring to birth a 'Third Force' in Christendom, the pentecostal movement” (37). Some of the influential leaders and authors in this movement were William Boardman (The Higher Christian Life, 1859), Robert Smith, and Hannah Smith (The Christian's Secret of a Happy Life, 1875).

Thus, there were three major contributions the national holiness movement made to the atmosphere in which modern Pentecostalism would eventually arise: 1) an emphasis on a spiritual crisis experience, subsequent to initial conversion; 2) the identification of this experience with the baptism in the Holy Spirit; and 3) popularization of speaking in tongues.

The Emergence of Modern Pentecostalism

We’ve seen thus far that Pentecostalism has its roots in three sources: 1) the theology of John Wesley; 2) the revivalism of Charles Finney; and 3) the emergence of the National Holiness Movement, which was an attempt to preserve historic Wesleyanism. The move from the NHM into Pentecostalism per se began in Topeka, Kansas, with a man named Charles Parham (1873-1929).

Converted at the age of 13, Parham claims to have been healed while in college, thus preparing him for ministry. He was initially involved in the NHM and travelled as an independent evangelist/healer until he arrived in Topeka in 1898. He founded the Divine Healing Mission there which was later re-named the Apostolic Congregation and Divine Healing Home (1900).

In 1900 he established the Bethel Bible Institute where he taught his students that the inevitable result of Spirit-baptism was speaking in tongues. Till now, though, none had experienced it for themselves (although Parham had seen it in others during a trip to New York).

At 7:00 p.m. on New Year’s Day, 1901, Agnes N. Ozman, one of Parham's students, spoke in tongues. This event marks the beginning of the classical Pentecostal movement. Parham relates what happened:

“I laid my hands upon her and prayed. I had scarcely repeated three dozen sentences when a glory fell upon her, a halo seemed to surround her head and face, and she began speaking in the Chinese language and was unable to speak English for three days. When she tried to write in English to tell us of her experience she wrote Chinese copies of which we still have in newspapers printed at that time.”

In a short time news spread of what had happened. Reporters and language experts soon converged on the tiny school to investigate this new phenomenon. Cities throughout Missouri, Oklahoma, Kansas and Texas also began to experience similar occurrences. The most important development came in Houston, Texas.

William J. Seymour (1870-1922), an uneducated black man, was a Baptist pastor turned holiness preacher. He came under Parham's influence at the school in Houston founded by the latter. Since blacks were not legally permitted to sit in the same classroom with whites, Seymour was forced to listen to Parham's lectures in the hallway.

He went to Los Angeles in 1906 to pastor a church that in mid-April moved to 312 Azusa Street (a shabby, two-storied wooden building). Scores of people began to “fall under the power” and to speak in tongues. Seymour's preaching of judgment and divine wrath seemed to have significance, for the great San Francisco earthquake hit on April 18, 1906. In the same month the volcano Vesuvius erupted. Many took these events as eschatological signs of the end and flocked to Seymour and his group of disciples.

On April 18, 1906, the first news report of the controversial meetings on Azusa Street appeared in the Los Angeles Times. The events at Azusa (tongues, visions, healings) lasted from 1906 to 1909. Synan writes:

“The Azusa Street revival is commonly regarded as the beginning of the modern pentecostal movement. Although many persons had spoken in tongues in the U.S. in the years preceding 1906, this meeting brought this belief to the attention of the world and served as the catalyst for the formation of scores of pentecostal denominations. Directly or indirectly, practically all of the pentecostal groups in existence can trace their lineage to the Azusa Mission.”

The most important classical Pentecostal denomination, The Assemblies of God, was established in 1914, when several leaders gathered in Hot Springs, Arkansas from April 2 to 12th. In 1916 at the General Conference in St. Louis the denomination affirmed Trinitarianism, leading to the departure of some 155 preachers and over 100 congregations. The unitarian Pentecostals then formed separate splinter groups, out of which would eventually emerge the United Pentecostal Church or “Jesus Only” church.

The theological distinctives of what has come to be known as “Classical Pentecostalism” are primarily four in number.

First, they insist that the baptism in the Holy Spirit is a distinct experience separate from and subsequent to conversion that is available to all believers. It should be prayed for and pursued.

Second, related to the former point is the belief that speaking in tongues is the initial physical evidence of baptism in the Spirit. If a believer has been baptized in the Spirit, he/she will speak in tongues. Tongues, then, is a sign of Spirit-baptism.

Third, all classical Pentecostals believe in the continuation of all spiritual gifts in the church today.

Fourth, many, but not all Pentecostals, argue that since healing is in the atonement all believers may justifiably claim complete physical health in this present age. However, this view is more characteristic of an offshoot of the charismatic movement known as the Word of Faith movement, also referred to as the Health and Wealth gospel.

Fifth, although classical Pentecostals typically affirm all the fundamental tenets of evangelical orthodoxy, most are Arminian in their soteriology, dispensational in their eschatology, and egalitarian when it comes to the role of women in church leadership.

Aside from the Assemblies of God, other Pentecostal denominations would include the International Pentecostal Holiness Church, the Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee), Elim Fellowship, International Church of the Foursquare Gospel, the Church of God in Christ, and quite literally dozens of other smaller denominations.

But what is the difference between this so-called “classical Pentecostal” movement and what have come to be known as the Charismatic Movement and the Third Wave? And how did the latter two emerge? I will take this up in the next article.

 

2 Comments

I have just read your book,"Understanding Spiritual gifts,a comprehensive guide". Thank you for presenting a balanced Kew of the subject of Spiritual gifts. I have been a "Pentecostal" for about 50years and haven't read anything as well presented. On the topic of cessationism, I would add o e thought of the "That which is perfect". If the modern cannon of scripture is perfect then I would ask the question," if our bible is so perfect then how come we have so many different denominations of churches in our world. When that which is prefect is come we will know perfectly. Thanks for your other understandings which I agree full heartedly
Ross H
Thanks for the excellent historical overview, Pastor Sam! It reminded me of a major paper I did in graduate school on the history of the Pentecostal movement. Looking forward to the second article, since I only have a cursory knowledge of the history of the Charismatic movement and the Third Wave.

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