How Pentecostalism developed

Pentecostalism was shaped to a significant degree by the events surrounding the years of its development. When and how did the development of Pentecostalism take place? What changes occurred after the beginning of Pentecostalism in 1906-9 that transformed this movement? What influenced the way that Pentecostalism took shape in the course of time?

Major controversies faced Pentecostalism during its first few decades in particular. Controveries created divisions, which in turn created new movements within the movement as a whole. But they also had the added effect of cementing the overall shape that this movement developed through to the present time.

The first issue to divide Pentecostals centred around the nature of tongues. During the late part of 1906 controvery arose over the accounts of tongues-speaking found in the book of Acts as compared to that found in Paul's second letter to the Corinthians. Some believed that the tongues spoken of in the narrative literature of Acts had a different function to the tongues described in 1 Corinthians 14 – the former providing evidence of Spirit baptism, the latter functioning for the individual's prayer life and for the congregations edification (if interpreted.) Others however believed that the tongues-speaking in the book of Acts and the gift of tongues in the book of Corinthians were the same in nature. Among these was Charles Parham who continued to believe in the preaching function of tongues.

Before the revival of tongues-speaking that occurred at the turn of the nineteenth-century in conjunction with the beginning of Pentecostalism, Christians who later joined the Pentecostal movement had been expecting the gift of languages to be given to equip the Church to evangelise the unreached millions in their mother-tongues, before the End. However after 1906 an increasing number of Pentecostals recognised that in most of the occurances they had witnessed, tongues-speaking was not actually identifiable in its nature. Christians seemed to be speaking as if praying with unknown utterances (as opposed to preaching in identifiable though foreign languages.) More and more Pentecostals from this time on concluded that the function of tongues was to enable an individual to “pray in the Spirit.”

The second issue to divide Pentecostals was the number (and nature) of subsequent works of the Spirit to conversion. Were there three works of grace (being conversion, sanctification and Spirit-baptism) or only two (being only conversion and Spirit baptism.) And what were the functions of each work of the Spirit? Did conversion also involve the Spirit's work of sanctification as well as regeneration? Was Spirit-baptism a separate experience involving empowerment and the gifts of the Spirit only? Or did Spirit-baptism also involve sanctification? The resolution of this issue caused the rapid proliferation of Pentecostal denominations within the years that followed as divisions brought new groups, new groups created new movements and new movements developed into separate denominations.

The third controversy that shaped Pentecostalism arose over the practice of water baptism. A preacher by the name of R. E. McAlister believed that he had discovered a new pattern in the book of Acts that shed light on the restoration of the full gospel to the Church. He noticed that the Apostles baptised individuals in the name of the Lord Jesus only and did not use the Trinitarian formula found in Matthew 28:19. Those who followed his strong Christological emphasis were rebaptised with him into the name of Jesus only and a new movement within the movement began. They began emphasising the “Oneness” of the Godhead in contrast to the Trinitarian teaching on three Persons. This movement is today known as Oneness Pentecostalism (or is referred to as Oneness theology.)

Each of these three controversies accelerated the formation of different Pentecostal denominations. The Assemblies of God is an example: The General Council of the Assemblies of God came into being in April 1914 in an effort to preserve a doctrinal consensus of opinion that existed among its participants on matters such as the Trinity, “Diving Healing” and “Baptism in the Spirit.” Although the Oneness issue threatened to split the General Council, the theological boundaries that were formulated created a doctrinal unity within their churches that ensured the stability of the denomination.

“With the condemnation of the Oneness issue, the fathers and mothers of the Assemblies of God assumed that the restoration of the apostolic faith had been protected from error.” [1]
From this time onward the official teaching of the Assemblies of God denomination was that Spirit baptism is the second (not the third) and only subsequent work of the Spirit after conversion, that it functions for the empowerment of believers, and that sanctification is an outworking of the Spirit's reception in salvation from the moment of conversion onwards.

By way of summary then, 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.

More on this topic

Where Australian Pentecostalism came from

Why Pentecostalism was successful

Baptism in the Spirit: What Pentecostals believe

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[1] 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. 20. | 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.