The global impact of Pentecostalism


Christian Life


Worship service of a Pentecostal church. Photo Facebook, United Pentecostal Church International

Pentecostalism is not only about the gifts of the Spirit. It has brought about radical changes in relation to racial equality, women's emancipation, ecumenism, worship and mission, states Dutch theology professor Paul van der Laan in a recent article in online magazine Theologie.

The Pentecostal movement emerged at the beginning of the 20th century out of the 19th century sanctification movement, which included ministers like Wesley, Finney, and Booth. There are roughly 600 million adherents worldwide, half of whom belong to Pentecostal churches and the other half are charismatic Christians spread across various denominations, according to data by Pew Research Center. In numbers, Pentecostals have far outstripped Protestants. Van der Laan even speaks of a 20th century reformation. He mentions five aspects that, apart from the rediscovery of spiritual gifts, have contributed to the remarkable growth of this multicoloured movement.

1. Racial equality

When in various parts of the world believers began to speak in foreign languages as on the first day of Pentecost, a revival broke out on Azusa Street, Los Angeles, in 1906, which received much attention. The leader of this small church was a black slave son, William Seymour.

The revival lasted three years. Biblical spiritual gifts like speaking in tongues, knowledge, miracles and healing manifested themselves here. Very special for that time was the fact that it did not matter what skin colour you had. “The colour separation was washed away by the blood!” jubilated Frank Bartleman, who was an eyewitness to the revival. For Seymour, this visible love was the ultimate proof of the baptism in the Holy Spirit. White pastors from the southern states, where laws legally imposed racial segregation, visited the little church on Azusa Street and had to recognise that this was a work of God.

2. Women’s emancipation

Unusually at the time, women were given leading roles within the young movement. Agnes (Lizzie) Ozman, a young woman, was the first to receive baptism in the Holy Spirit. In India, a Pentecostal revival took place in 1905 at a home for child widows led by Pandita Ramabai Sarasvati. She is honoured in India to this day as a leading social activist, who did much for women's emancipation. Aimee Semple McPherson was the most well-known evangelist in the United States in her time and the first woman with a radio station in Los Angeles. She founded the Foursquare Church in 1923. This denomination now has nearly 9 million members in 67,500 churches worldwide.

3. Ecumenism

Initially, the Pentecostal movement, especially in Europe, was a renewal movement within the established churches. But because of the resistance Pentecostals generally encountered, this ecumenical desire was frustrated and they were forced to establish independent denominations. Later the growth of the Pentecostal movement and the increasing interest in the work of the Holy Spirit resulted in more mutual openness and dialogue. Through the influence of the charismatic movement, the baptism and gifts of the Holy Spirit were increasingly accepted and promoted within the historic churches. Ecumenical charismatic conferences and celebrations emerged.

4. Worship

In the liturgy of most Pentecostal churches, so-called 'worship' occupies an equal place with preaching. This part of the worship service is often led by a separate worship leader or worship band. There is opportunity for participation by all present, for example through prayer, reading a Bible passage or expressing spiritual gifts. The songs are contemporary, Christocentric and full of emotion. Young people are engaged. Emotion and enthusiasm thus find a place within the Christian church worldwide.

5. Mission

In Pentecostalism, actual inspiration by the Holy Spirit is of almost equal importance to the Bible. This contributed to a missionary urge, the desire to spread the gospel worldwide. The Pentecostal mission proved particularly effective in the southern hemisphere. It offered a counterforce against still often feared and fought evil spirits. The emphasis on autonomy of the local congregation and the personal guidance of the Holy Spirit made it easier for the new Pentecostal churches to connect with the local and rural culture. In Africa and South America, Pentecostal churches have now grown so fast that no politician can ignore them.



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