Pentecostalism in America
Pentecostalism in America
- Roger G. RobinsRoger G. RobinsThe University of Tokyo, Center for Global Communication Strategies
American Pentecostalism is a Christian movement that takes its name from the ecstatic empowerment of early Christians on the Jewish feast of Pentecost, described in Acts 2:1–4 of the New Testament. Known for its enthusiastic worship, the movement holds that the supernatural gifts and manifestations described in the Bible are still available to Christians who have been “filled with the Spirit” through an experience known as “baptism in (or with) the Holy Spirit (or Holy Ghost).” These gifts and manifestations include divine healing, prophecy, and—most notably—glossolalia, also known as “speaking in tongues,” a form of ecstatic vocalization that Pentecostals equate with the spiritual phenomenon of that description found in the New Testament.
The origins of Pentecostalism trace to the Wesleyan-inspired Holiness movement of the 19th century, which pursued Christian perfection through “entire sanctification,” an experience subsequent to salvation said to enable Christians to live a sinless life. Most adherents equated sanctification with baptism in the Holy Ghost. By the late 19th century, Holiness had broadened into an ecumenical, multiracial movement whose most zealous advocates sought to recover the power and practices of 1st-century “Apostolic” Christianity, expected the imminent Second Coming of Christ, and embraced uninhibited worship.
In 1901, Holiness evangelist and Bible school teacher Charles Fox Parham identified glossolalia as the telltale sign of Holy Ghost baptism in the New Testament, and a revival featuring that manifestation erupted at his school in Topeka, Kansas. Parham promoted the new teaching throughout the lower Midwest, founding a string of “Apostolic Faith” missions. In 1906, an African American Holiness preacher who had briefly affiliated with Parham, William Joseph Seymour, carried the Apostolic Faith message to Los Angeles, where he founded a mission on Azusa Street and led an epochal revival that drew many into the new “Pentecostal” movement.
Early Pentecostalism had no hierarchy or authoritative structures and quickly succumbed to doctrinal controversies. First, a dispute over entire sanctification separated “Holiness Pentecostals,” who adhered to the original Wesleyan teaching, from “Reformed” adherents who viewed sanctification as a process realized progressively over a lifetime. Shortly thereafter, a “Oneness” or “Jesus Name” branch emerged among Pentecostals who rejected the doctrine of the Trinity. Formal denominations developed within each of these three branches, although many Pentecostals remained independent of formal affiliation.
The middle decades of the 20th century witnessed rapid growth and institutional proliferation within Pentecostalism amid two parallel trends: professionalization and bureaucratization on the one side, and revitalization currents like the divine healing or “Deliverance” movement on the other. Meanwhile, Pentecostal beliefs and practices spread through mainline Protestant, Roman Catholic, and Orthodox churches, giving rise to the Charismatic Movement. These various strains overlapped and converged in a variety of “neo-Pentecostal” forms over succeeding decades, inspiring creative and controversial expressions such as the Prosperity Gospel, entrepreneurial networks of apostles, and new denominations like Vineyard USA. Pentecostalism in the 21st century reflects the entirety of this historical legacy and thus forms a manifold tapestry of extraordinary range and complexity.
- Religious History