Pentecostal & Charismatic Overview & History

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Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church
October 5, 2008

The Pentecostals & Charismatics

1) What is positive?

A) Their evangelistic zeal. – Local and Worldwide

B) Commitment to God

*Concerned more about what God thinks than what the world thinks. Willing to be called “fools” for Christ’s sake. The have faith to believe God for the “impossible.”



B) Their worship

*Worship involving body, soul & mind. Usually with a personal element

*Worship music (some very good, some good, some bad, some very bad)

2) What is a “Charismatic”

Several writers commented about how difficult it was to define Pentecostals and Charismatics because of the great diversity of beliefs within the movement. As an aide I offer the following:

A) Pentecostals

This is the older term and more defining of the older “charismatic” denominations. It comes from Acts 2 & the “Day of Pentecost” experience of the birth of the church. Their defining belief is that speaking in an unknown tongue is the sign of the “Baptism of the Holy Spirit.” They have a strong emphasis on the Bible and fundamental doctrines (i.e. deity of Christ, virgin birth, Substitutionary atonement by Christ’s bloody death, etc.).

B) Charismatics

This term describes the neo-pentecostal movement that swept into non-Pentecostal churches in the1960’s & 70’s. The newer term arises from Greek  carisma / charisma (grace gifts) in 1 Cor. 12. Their defining belief is that “gifts” listed in 1 Cor. 12:8-10 are still active today. Most still define speaking in an unknown tongue as the evidence of being Baptized by the Spirit. A few accept any of the 1 Cor. 12 gifts as evidence. Doctrinal beliefs vary widely from conservative to liberal, from separatistic to ecumenical, from Baptistic to Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox. Charismatics can be found in nearly all denominations. The Bible & personal experience are both important & because of that there is less discernment of the truth.

C) Charismaniacs

This is a made up term to describe the extreme groups in which personal experience & revelations take precedent over the Bible. It is within this group that the extreme silliness and outright heresy arises

Examples of silliness: flat tires being ‘healed.’ God raising ‘pet chickens from the dead.’ ‘Miracle coins’ that will bring financial prosperity – (provided you give your ‘best gift’ to the ministry handing the coins out). ‘One dollar bills that turn into twenties.’ Demons excorsied from vending machines and household appliances. The woman that taught her dog to bark in an ‘unknown tongue.’

Examples of heresy: *Little God’s : E. W. Kenyon & followers – Fred Price, Kenneth Copland, Kenneth Hagin, Paul Crouch, Earl Paulk. *Jesus is a God anointed man: Kenneth Copland. *Born again Jesus – Kenneth Hagin, Kenneth & Gloria Copeland. *Salvation by Works/money: Robert Tilton, Jimmy Swaggert. Denial of the Trinity: Jimmy Swaggert. *Word faith/Name it, claim it: Charles Capps & followers.

3) Where did they come from? An Historical Overview. You cannot understand the movement until you understand its roots.

A) The Montanists. Between A.D. 130 & 155 a man named Montanus began to have ‘somnambulistic ecstasies’ (Sleep-walking; trances) and considered himself the inspired organ of the Paraclete (Holy Spirit). He, along with two women who had left their husbands, Priscilla & Maximilla, went forth as prophets and reformers of the Christian life, and proclaimed the near approach of the age of the Holy Spirit and of the millennial reign in Pepuza, a small village of Phyrgia (Modern Turkey), upon which the new Jerusalem was to come down. Scenes took place in which there was glossolalia (speaking in tongues) and prophesying. The movement quickly spread to North Africa and to Rome. It was the first instance of a theory of development which assumed an advance beyond the New Testament and the Christianity of the Apostles.

Montanus sought a forced continuance of the miraculous gifts of the Apostolic church which had disappeared after the Apostles had died. Ecstatic oracular utterances were taken for divine inspirations. Prophecies given by them concerning the judgments of God, persecutions, the millennium, ascetic exercises, etc. where enforced as church law. Their asceticism was extreme. It required many fasts, virgins to be veiled, no women could wear ornamental clothing or accessories, marriage was a ‘concession to the sensuous infirmity of man,’ marriage after the death of a spouse was condemned as adultery, hiding from or fleeing from persecution and/or martyrdom was condemned, etc.

A division was made between “true spiritual Christians” (the pneumatikoi – themselves) and ordinary Christians (the psychicals). The theologian Tertullian fell under their influence and so they were also called Tertulliansts. They were largely ignored or condemned by the rest of the church and existed until the sixth century.

B) Irvingism. Not until the 19th century was there again any group with similar theology or practice. In the late 1820’s, an evangelical Church of Scotland minister named Edward Irving began teaching that the “extra-ordinary gifts of the Holy Spirit” would be given once again just prior to the Second Coming. He preached and waited for its occurrence. In the Spring of 1830 it was reported that “speaking in tongues” had occurred in the west of Scotland and within a year manifestations of it were present in the church he pastored. The church presbytry debarred him from the pulpit and he was under threat of debarring by the Scottish General Assembly. He and his followers joined what became known as the Catholic Apostolic church. He died shortly after in 1834.

C) Other groups with some tie (however loose) to Ch
ristianity that “spoke in tongues” include the Shakers (late 1700’s to mid-1800’s – especially after the influence of ‘Mother’ Ann Lee), and the Church of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons – 1830’s). It is also reported that there were isolated churches in India, Armenia & North Carolina where the phenomena occurred around the turn of the century, but these congregations remained isolated. No movements resulted from them.

D) The rise of modern Pentecostalism. The movement erupted on the scene at the turn of the 19th century, but it did not arise as something brand new, rather it was more the product or extension of at least five lines of theological thought, especially in what was occurring in the holiness or higher-life movement of the 19th century. This movement developed out of 19th century Methodism.

John Wesley had taught that conversion, or the New Birth, was the beginning of a lifelong process of moral perfection. The “inbred sin” of man had to be eradicated in a definable second moment of grace, or “second blessing,” in which the stranglehold of sin was decisively broken. This reflects his own experience when travelling back to England from America and meeting a Moravian missionary.

The “higher life” movements in America (Finney, etc.) and England (esp. Keswick from 1874 on) also emphasized the importance of a life-transforming experience after conversion. They differed from Wesley in that they saw this as an endowment of power that equipped a believer for service rather than a second moment of grace that eradicated sinful desires. As those in the “higher life” & Holiness movements mixed with each other, their ideas also mixed and the difference between them were lost to many.

By the 1890’s both movements called the second crisis of experience in the spiritual life as the “baptism in the Holy spirit.” The holiness teachers tended to encourage people to seek this blessing as a “crises” experience that could be received in an instant of time through prayer and faith. The “mourners bench” of the Finney revivals and “praying through at the altar” are examples of this. By 1900 the Holiness movement had begun to think more in terms of crises religious experiences than in gradual growing in holiness.

At the same time a new theology of divine healing was introduced. Rather than the historic doctrine of having the Elders anoint and pray for the sick (James 5), independent divine healers such as John Alexander Dowie & Maria B. Woodworth-Etter arose. They touted a new doctrine promoted by A.B. Simpson, founder of the Christian & Missionary Alliance, that physical healing was in the atonement of Christ. Simpson’s “four basic doctrines of the Christian & Missionary Alliance” which stressed instant salvation, Baptism in the Holy Spirit, divine healing, and the second coming of Christ summarizes the thinking at the turn of the century within the holiness movement.

Another theological train of thought that re-developed and was emphasized at the time was the imminent pre-millennial second coming of Christ. The possibility of the immediate return of Christ led some to speculate that they were in the “end time” along with the expectation that their would be a return of the miracles of the New Testament church as the final outpouring of the Holy Spirit at the close of history. Many began seeking and praying for that to occur. This is probably the most significant line of thought at the time that gave a foundation for the arrival of the Pentecostal movement. There was a great expectation that the apostolic gifts would occur again.

By 1895 a “third blessing” was being promoted called “the fire” which would follow the first blessing of conversion and the second blessing of sanctification. The result was the “Fire-Baptized Holiness Church” and similar groups. Descriptions of their meetings range from “people screamed until you could hear them for three miles on a clear night” (by a leader of such a group), to a reporter writing, “you could not imagine the confusion.” Another reporter wrote that is sounded like the “female ward of an insane asylum.” In this sort of context it was only a matter of time before people began to look for palatable proof that they had truly been baptized in the Holy Spirit and thus ready for the Lord’s return.

With all these lines of theology developing, the arrival of people “speaking in tongues” in 1901 only added nothing except that “speaking in tongues” was the sign of the “baptism of the Holy Spirit.” All the other teachings and practices of Pentecostalism came directly from the Holiness movement including its style of worship, music and basic theology.

Charles Parham, a young Methodist minister, set out in October 1900 to find out the secret of the early church. Why in Acts there was so much more power, conversions, etc., than what he was experiencing? Parham started a Bible school in Topeka, Kansas in order to gather others around him to study and find an answer to his question. He knew the answer had something to do with the Holy Spirit (proper doctrine) and as a Methodist he believed in a “second blessing,” but questioned how someone could be sure of it. Parham and the others gathered there spent their time reading the Bible, keeping house, praying and seeking a sure evidence of the presence of the Holy Spirit. In December they came to the conclusion that it was “speaking with other tongues.” They all gathered the morning of Dec. 31, 1900 and began to pray that God would give them this sign of the Holy Spirit. Nothing occurred until 7:00 that evening when student Agnes Ozman remembered that “hands” were also part of what occurred in Acts. Parham “laid hands” on her and prayed and she began to utter syllables neither of them understood. Within 3 days all the other students had also “spoke in other tongues” as well as several other ministers that had come.

Plans were made to proclaim this message far and wide, but opposition ended up splitting the group up. Parham continued to preach what he called the “full gospel” message and gained an audience a few years later in Galena, Kansas. He started another school in Houston, Texas which was attended by W.J. Seymour, a black evangelist associated with a holiness and restoration band called the Evening Light Saints. It is Seymour that brought the doctrine of “speaking in tongues” as the evidence of the baptism of the Holy Spirit to Los Angeles in the Spring of 1906. The Azuza St. revival would last for 3 years of daily preaching, praying, etc.

Pentecostalism spread rapidly from this start throughout many Holiness churches in the United States – especially in the South, though some (Nazarene, Wesleyan Methodist, Salvation Army, etc.), rejected it. It also rapidly spread worldwide into Europe, Russia, South America, China and Africa. Denominations also began to form – Pentecostal Holiness Church, The Church of God in Christ, the Church of God, the Apostolic Faith, United Holy church and Pentecostal Free-Will Baptists. In 1914 the Assemblies of God formed out of converts from the Christian & Missionary Alliance & independent believers in the Mid-West. It split in 1916 over a unitarian controversy and the United Pentecostal Church was formed (they believe that God the Father, Son & Holy Spirit are all Jesus in different modes). Aimee Semple McPherson split off the AOG in 1927 and founded the Church of the Foursquare Gospel.

p>Pentecostalism had spread rapidly, but remained small fringe groups until after World War II. They then began to move into the middle class and lose their former image. Emergence of healing evangelists such as Oral Roberts & Jack Coe brought greater interest to the movement in the 50’s as did Roberts’ TV ministry which brought the movement into the homes of the average American. The founding of the Full Gospel Business Men in 1948 took their message to the middle and professional classes (and helped bankroll the movement). In 1948 several Pentecostal denominations became charter members of the National Association of Evangelicals and became part of the moderate evangelical movement. (They had been disfellowship by fundamentalist organizations in the 20’s and 30’s).

E) The Neo-Pentecostals – the Rise of the Charismatics.

Pentecostal theology of “baptism in the Holy Spirit” as evidenced by “speaking in tongues” moved strongly into mainline denominations during the 1960’s. Episcopal priest Dennis Bennet, rector at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Van Nuys, California, was invited to a Pentecostal meeting at which he began to “speak in tongues.” A nucleus of neo-pentecostals was formed in the church, then controversy erupted in the church with the story being carried locally and nationally. Bennet resigned and went to another Episcopal church in Seattle, WA where “speaking in tongues” was accepted. The new pentecostal movement rapidly spread to other denominations including Presbyterians ( James Brown, Parkersburg, PA.), Southern Baptists (John Olstien, Houston, TX), American Lutherans (Larry Christianson, So. Calif.), Reformed Church in America (Harold Bredenson, Mt Vernon, NY ), etc. In 1966 it entered the Roman Catholic Church through a weekend retreat at Duquesne University. It spread to Notre Dame and University of Michigan.. In 1973 the term “Charismatic” began to be used widely to distinguish these newer pentecostals from the older Pentecostal denominations. In 1980 it was estimated there were 62 million Pentecostals world-wide. There are much more than that currently for the movement is still growing and in many ways is becoming a dominant force within Christianity.

Why the change from earlier rejection to acceptance in the mainline denominations? While there are probably many factors, two stand out. First, a major theological shift in those groups had taken hold. At the turn of the century and through the 1930’s the church leaders were embroiled in the “modernist controversies” and the rise of theological liberalism. By the 1960’s the people in the pews had also succumbed to a theology which turned the Scriptures from the Word of God into a book of religious stories. Second, society itself had moved into the realm of giving more weight to experience, feelings and than what was or was not true. Note that the “Charismatic” movement took the Pentecostal experience, but not its fundamentalist doctrines including inerrancy and infallibility of the Bible, the virgin birth, salvation by grace through faith, substitutionary atonement, the creation account, pre-millennial eschatology, etc.

The ecumenical nature of the movement was seen in the charismatic revival at Yale University which included Protestants, Catholics, Jews, infidels and agnostics and all had the same experience. The movement was beautifully packaged and took in all sorts of varied theological believes including those denying the virgin birth, deity of Christ and other fundamental Biblical beliefs. It took in groups as diverse as the Christadelphians and Roman Catholics. The unity of the movement is based on experience and doctrine is ignored. Keep in mind that all over the world that there are witch doctors, Spiritists, Mormons, Balanites, and other false religions and cults that speak in tongues. Katherine Coleman & Mary Baker Eddy both produced movements based on their experiences

To Summarize:

1) There are some very positive aspects to the movement, but also some very serious errors.

2) The Pentecostal movement has its roots and doctrinal development solidly fixed in the Holiness and ‘higher-life’ movements of the 19th century.

3) The more recent “charismatic” movement is generated by experience instead of a search for Biblical truth. This is the bases for the excesses, heretical doctrine and an ecumenicism which now included even overtures to non-christian religions based on the “tongues” experience.


They Speak With Other Tongues, John L. Sherrill. Spire Books, 1964

Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, Walter A. Elwell, Editor. Baker, 1984

The Seduction of Christianity, Dave Hunt & T.A. McMahon. Harvest House, 1985

Charismatic Chaos, John MacArthur. Zondervan. 1992

The Charismatics, John MacArthur. Zondervan. 1978

The Pentecostals, Walter J. Hollenweger. Hendrickson Publishers, 1972

History of the Christian Church, Vol. II Philip Schaff, Editor. Eerdmans, 1910

The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. IV, Alexander Roberts, Editor. Eerdmans, 1979

Pentecostalism. Series of articles in Christianity Today, October 16, 1987

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