Why the origin of Pentecostalism is important

How can we truly understand something as complex as modern Pentecostalism? A complete understanding of Pentecostalism must involve an understanding of its history. And the crucial element within the history of Pentecostalism is its origin. The key to understanding Pentecostalism is understanding the origin of Pentecostalism.

Looking at the origin of Pentecostalism shows us, as well as where it came from, how it originated and why. How did Pentecostalism begin? What is the history of tongues? Where did Pentecostalism come from? Why did Pentecostalism begin?

Answering these questions will enable us to to begin to truly understand both the general characteristics of Pentecostalism and its specific distinctives. Talking Pentecostalism begins by answering not only these questions, but also the questions that spring from them, such as what did early Pentecostals think about themselves and their movement, why was Pentecostalism successful, and how was Pentecostalism shaped.

Here is a brief overview of the topics covered in my articles on the origin of Pentecostalism:

  • Pentecostalism began as a worldwide movement when a revival of tongues speaking at the beginning of the twentieth-century attracted international attention. Visitors to the revival carried Pentecostalism’s distinctive theology around the world within just a few years.

  • Tongues speaking, whether unknown utterances or miraculous gifts of languages, have been reported throughout history. However, what makes Pentecostalism unique is that never before has tongues speaking been given the doctrinal importance that modern Pentecostals have given to it.

  • Pentecostalism has its roots in the eighteenth-century Wesleyan doctrine of 'entire sanctification', which taught that sanctification involves a 'second blessing' as an experience of the Spirit distinct from conversion. Then, in the nineteenth-century, the Irvingites spread a charismatic eschatology which taught that the period prior to the second coming of Christ would see an end-time outpouring of the Spirit, accompanied by a restoration to the Church of the 'sign gifts' such as tongues and healing. Also at this time, Wesleyan doctrine spread to America where it inspired the Holiness movement, which reformed Wesleyan theology on the 'second blessing' by teaching that Spirit-baptism was the second experience to empower Christians for miraculous evangelisation.

  • The historical situation at the turn of the nineteenth-century that encouraged the appearance of Pentecostalism was a widespread desire for the gift of tongues for world evangelisation, the desire for a restoration of the 'full gospel', involving Spirit-baptism as a post-conversion experience and the miraculous gifts such as healing, the emphasis on spiritual experiences which involved 'crisis' events, and the theological necessity of an evidence to distinguish those who had received subsequent works of the Spirit from those who had not.

  • The origin of Pentecostalism can be understood against the backdrop of a revival of tongues-speaking in Topeka, 1901, after which Charles Parham formulated the doctrine of 'initial evidence': that tongues-speaking is the initial evidence of Spirit baptism, which he understood to be a separate work of the Spirit to conversion and sanctification. Then, when the re-occurrence of tongues speaking at the Azusa Street meetings from 1906-1909 gained a worldwide audience, William Seymour, a former student of Parham, used the revival as a platform to teach this new doctrine of Spirit-baptism. Visitors witnessed first-hand 'evidence' and carried abroad this new teaching.

  • Pentecostal thinkers themselves understand their doctrine of tongues-speaking to be unique in church history, and interpret the events surrounding the beginning of the twentieth-century as the end-time restoration of the 'Apostolic faith' in preparation for Christ's return. The practice of tongues-speaking is given doctrinal priority because it distinguishes between those who have received the unique work of Spirit-baptism from those Christians who have not.

  • The early decades of the twentieth-century were defining years for Pentecostalism. Dividing controversies arose over the nature of tongues, the nature and number of subsequent works of the Spirit, and the practice of water-baptism. The resolution of these issues accelerated the formation of different Pentecostal denominations, each of which took different doctrinal stances.

The Bible's context and ours

Only an understanding of the message of the Bible itself will enable Christians to evaluate Pentecostalism for themselves. However, just as any one-directional focus leaves us unaware of our blind-spots, so too a unifocus on the Bible, even in its context, without proper consideration to one's own context and the way that inevitably influences our perceptions of the Bible's message, runs the same risk as a swimmer who fails to notice the influence of the current upon his direction: he is bound to end up along way off course.

Nobody can remove the impact our own environment and historical context has upon the way we each interpret the Bible. We comprehend the meaning of any story according to a variety of factors, including the words and phrases used, but also according to our presuppositions, such as where we think the story is heading, for example.

The point is, Christians are readers. We are readers of God's Word, but we must also be readers of ourselves. The most any diligent reader can do is be aware of our influences, and seek to critically assess their effect upon our reading, and by subjecting our ideas and presuppositions to the Scriptures themselves as we read them, undergo a process of continual review and modification of our beliefs, according to how we perceive them to bear up under the evidence regarding the meaning of Scripture, and so increasingly align ourselves with the Scriptures themselves.

For Pentecostals and those influenced by the Charismatic movement, undertanding the origin of Pentecostalism is a part of this process. It will enable you to begin to see the extent to which your reading of the Bible, and of Church history, and of your own life, has been informed by the beliefs of your own Christian culture. Understanding the origin of Pentecostalism will better enable you to distinguish within your own Christianity the way in which your understanding of the Scriptures has been determined by Pentecostalism itself rather than by their Author.

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More on this topic

Defining Pentecostalism

Why talk about Pentecostalism

How Pentecostalism began | 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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