Defining Pentecostalism: What is a Pentecostal?

A Pentecostal is somebody who is a part of Pentecostalism. So what is 'Pentecostalism'?

A Definition of 'Pentecostalism'

A movement

Pentecostalism is a movement; it is a trend within Christianity of a growing group that share characteristic beliefs and goals. The Charismatic movement is the influence of Pentecostalism among mainline church denominations. Though there are thousands of Pentecostal denominations worldwide, such as the Assemblies of God, the Apostolic Church and the Full Gospel Church, the Charismatic movement has shown that Pentecostalism transcends denominations.

A modern movement

Pentecostalism is also a modern movement because it emerged only recently in modern history. Its definite origin and unique theology distinguishes it from other movements in history, such as Montanism (a prophetic movement of the second century), that although similar, did not possess the doctrinal distinctives of Pentecostalism. Pentecostalism has a characteristic doctrinal teaching concerning “baptism with the Spirit”1 (or “Spirit baptism” for short) which is unique from any other past movement in history.

A reformation movement

Pentecostalism is also a reformation movement because it seeks to reform certain doctrines and practices of the past by its influence in the present. Pentecostalism not only began by reforming various doctrines of the past, but still today one of the goals of this movement is the continuing reformation of the church in these areas.
“It bears strong commonalities with evangelical doctrines while testifying to long-neglected truths about the work of the Holy Spirit...”2
A restoration movement

Pentecostalism is a restoration movement. It began with a belief that in its origin God was restoring New Testament Christianity to the church today by bringing a discovery and recovery of certain truths and experiences of the Spirit. And now by virtue of its rapid growth and huge worldwide influence, Pentecostalism today is increasingly bringing such a 'restoration' to the church because of the way it is “reshaping Christianity in the twenty-first century.”3

"Thus far the twentieth-century Pentecostal movement has succeeded in restoring the experiential dimension of the Spirit's dynamic presence to a significant segment of the church. Pentecostals believe that recovery of the doctrine and experience of being baptized in the Holy Spirit is comparable to the Reformation's recovery of the doctrine of justification by faith."4
A charismatic movement

Pentecostalism is also a charismatic movement because it characteristically emphasises the working and gifts of the Spirit,5 with a special focus on baptism with the Spirit, the gift of tongues and the other spiritual gifts of 1 Corinthians 12:8-10.

A unique charismatic movement

Pentecostalism is a movement with a distinctive doctrine of Pentecost that makes it unique among other charismatic movements in history. What makes Pentecostalism unique from other charismatic movements is its distinctive doctrine of Spirit baptism, and the priority this gives to the gifts of the Spirit, particularly the gift of tongues. This comes from a particular reading of the Pentecost events: Acts 2 when baptism with the Spirit was first given to Jews, and Acts 8, 10 and 19 when it was repeated among Samaritans, Gentiles and some of John's disciples. Pentecostalism teaches that baptism with the Spirit is a post-conversion experience of empowerment for supernatural Christian living, with “speaking in tongues”6 as the initial physical evidence.

Putting it all together

Pentecostalism may be defined as a modern charismatic reformation movement with a distinctive theology of Spirit baptism that gives doctrinal priority to the gift of tongues.

However this definition does not include the fact that Pentecostalism also refers at times to a separate theological system with its own distinctive method, doctrines and practices.7

More on this topic

Why talk about Pentecostalism

The famous five

Why the origin of Pentecostalism is important

Baptism in the Spirit: What Pentecostals believe

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1 Baptism “in” or “with” the Spirit are synonymous terms. However baptism “by” or “of” the Spirit are misleading translations, because the Scriptures repeatedly indicate that this baptism was given by Jesus, not by the Spirit; that is, it is the baptism of Jesus, as opposed to the baptism of John – it was a baptism with the Spirit, or in the Spirit, as opposed to John's baptism that was with water, or in water. However, since Acts 2 and the OT Scriptures refer to this baptism as being a “pouring out” of the Spirit by Jesus, as opposed to an “immersion in” the Spirit, the translation “baptism with the Spirit” is the most appropriate.
2 Gary B. McGee (Ph.D., Professor of Church History, Chair, Bible and Theology Department at Assemblies of God Theological Seminary), Systematic Theology, Chapter 1 “Historical Background”, Logion Press, 1995, p. 9.
3 Harvey Cox, Harvard University.
4 John W. Wyckoff (Ph.D., Professor of Bible and Theology, Chair, Church Ministries Division at Southwestern Assemblies of God College), Systematic Theology, Chapter 13 “The Baptism in the Holy Spirit”, Logion Press, 1995, p. 454.
5 “Charismatic” comes from the Greek word, charismata, meaning “gifts.”
6 While the Greek word for “tongues” (glossolalia) is literally “languages”, Pentecostals base their practice of tongues-speaking on ideas in 1 Corinthians 14, where the practice may not be associated with known languages. The use of this word in Pentecostalism is almost synonymous for “unknown utterances.”
7 Examples of different theological systems are Calvinism and Arminianism, or Protestantism and Catholicism. | joe towns: christian discussion on pentecost, charisma, pentecostal and charismatic beliefs, the Bible and Jesus; including the origin and history of pentecostalism, baptism in the Holy Spirit, speaking in tongues, gifts and miracles, divine healing and word of faith, prosperity and wealth, praise and worship, guidance and hearing the voice of the Holy Spirit.


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