I AM A CLASSICAL PENTECOSTAL
Hello, I am a Classical Pentecostal. What do I mean by this? Lets go back to the beginning and crack open the book of Acts. The Bible records that Jesus Christ, after He resurrected from the dead, addressed His disciples with these words; “For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence.” (Acts 1:5 KJV) So we see that Jesus Christ used this term, “baptized with the Holy Ghost”, teaching His disciples that something important was in store. He further told His disciples to wait in Jerusalem for this to occur. His disciples did so, and we are told that:
And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting.And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. (Acts 2:1-4 KJV)
We see from this scripture that the baptism of the Holy Spirit is a spiritual experience where the Holy Spirit of God fills a Christian. Jesus also said; “He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” (John 7:38 NKJV) This is how it felt for me when I personally experienced the Baptism of The Holy Spirit. One Sunday morning, when I was a young Christian, I had an experience where I knew that I knew, that I knew that I was going the Baptized in The Holy Spirit that day/evening. How did I know? I just knew. Later that day, in the evening church service, The Lord was moving in a beautiful way and I was worshiping Him with all of my heart. The pastor called forward any who would like prayer for any reason and I went forward. No one laid hands on me but an elder asked me what I was seeking. I said The Baptism of The Holy Spirit. He just said “ask God for it.” I did pray and ask the Lord for this baptism. Shortly after doing so I felt something rising up from my innermost being, like a well rising up, up, up until it reached my mouth, and then tongues. Tongues were gushing out of me like water spewing out of a fire hydrant that had lost its cap. This was a language I had never learned, but I was somehow aware that it consisted of worship and prayer. It was so clean and pure and beautiful and wonderful and real.
This baptism was the experience of the early Christian believers. While it has been the experience of certain other Christians throughout time, something happened in the twentieth century where this experience exploded into the forefront and became the experience of many.
The Pentecostal Movement, when it broke out in the early twentieth century, was as greatly misunderstood as the early worshipers in Acts 1 and 2 were misunderstood on the Day of Pentecost. The Pentecostal Movement is misunderstood by many today, as well.
Pentecostalism is a worldwide movement which has spread and increased from the early 1900s to our day. Its greatest concentration of people and churches is in Africa, Latin America and Asia. Much of 20th century Pentecostalism is rooted in the early 1900s, referring to the Topeka and Azusa Revivals. However, it is impossible to trace Pentecostalism to just one place or one period of time. Pentecostal phenomena have been reported throughout the ages in various places. However, in the early 1900s, Pentecostal phenomena and experience was erupting and spreading rapidly throughout the world. Beginning in 1906, the Azusa Street Revival, in Los Angeles, became known as a major centre for the erupting of Pentecostalism and for the commissioning of Pentecostal missionaries. It is generally thought of as the beginning of the movement. As well, many historians see the Topeka outpourings of 1901, involving minister Charles Fox Parham, as being the beginnings of Pentecostalism in America. However, Parham remains a controversial person in Pentecostal history and many Pentecostals would prefer to trace their history to Azusa Street, rather than to him.
The first-generation leaders of the Azusa Revival came, for the most part, from Holiness and Methodist backgrounds, and Holiness teaching and preaching became, possibly, the main theological thrust of the revival and the movement.
Pentecostals believe in salvation by faith, in the atoning sacrifice of Christ, in His literal resurrection, in the inspiration of the Scriptures, in a literal heaven and a literal hell, and in participating in the ceremonies of baptism and communion. We are known for teaching about Jesus Christ, sanctification, the baptism of the Holy Spirit, tongues, healing and spiritual gifts.
Pentecostals believe in the baptism of the Holy Spirit as a spiritual experience in which a believer is filled with God’s Spirit and endued with heavenly power to be a witness for Christ. Most Pentecostals believe this baptism to be an experience subsequent to conversion, however, it may occur upon conversion in some instances. Being baptized in the Holy Spirit is synonymous with being filled with the Holy Spirit. Pentecostals point out that Spirit baptism/Spirit infilling is a promise in the Scriptures (see Luke 24:49, Acts 1:4) and that believers are called to it (see Ephesians 5:18). Pentecostals regard the normative evidence for the baptism in the Holy Spirit to be that of speaking in tongues.
Pentecostals believe in divine healing, generally believing physical healing to be provided for in the atonement. Healing services are common in Pentecostal history and modern practice, and prayer, accompanied with the laying on of hands or anointing with oil, is often offered for the sick.
Pentecostals believe in the operation of spiritual gifts, gifts such as, the word of wisdom, the word of knowledge, faith, gifts of healing, the working of miracles, prophecy, the discerning of spirits, tongues and the interpretation of tongues. (See 1 Corinthians 12:1-11).
What are spiritual gifts? In 1 Corinthians 12: 7-11, nine are listed. These gifts overlap each other considerably but we will discuss them as separate gifts at this time. The first of these is the word of wisdom. This is a supernatural wisdom which comes to the believer’s mind at important times of decision or when understanding is needed. It is good judgment which becomes clear in the mind of a believer even in confusing situations. It has been called a “holy quick-wittedness.”1
Similar to the word of wisdom is the word of knowledge. This is a supernatural knowledge of specific facts that God reveals. A word of knowledge is not arrived at by natural senses but is received only from God’s Spirit. It is a supernatural revelation of specific information for a specific purpose. 2
Not only is a word of knowledge a spiritual gift, but so is faith. The Bible speaks much about faith, but in most places it does not specifically speak of it as a spiritual gift. For that reason, theologians often refer to faith in this passage as “special faith” or “charismatic faith.” 3 This kind of faith is a special endowment of unshakable belief which fills the soul and spirit of a believer to believe God and His word and to trust Him in specific situations. 4
Closely related to faith are gifts of healing. These are miraculous gifts given for the purpose of restoring health and wholeness to the sick and other ailing people. God’s healing power can mend both body and mind. Thomas Holdcroft describes the operation of this gift in this way; “The human channel receives a package of healing remedies to be shared as gifts with others.” 5 The believer, or “human channel,” is given these gifts to go and minister them to those in need. 6
Similar to gifts of healing, yet more general, is the working of miracles. Healing is a specific miracle benefiting the body and the mind. However, there are other kinds of miracles which God also wants to preform, either as a testimony of His power or for the changing of situations. These supernatural interventions into the affairs of earth are miracles and can come about through the special operation of gifts such as these. 7
Just as miraculous as the gift of the working of miracles is, so is the gift of prophecy. This gift is simply of one receiving a specific word from the Lord and then speaking that message to other people. The Bible is very clear; “And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, …” (Acts 2:17). This gift is needed in many situations for God to give specific information or specific direction to His Church. 8
Just as the gift of prophecy is needful for the church, so is the gift of the discerning of spirits. This gift is needful because God’s Spirit is not the only spirit that is active in the visible Church. Even demonic spirits, can operate among believers and often go undetected. The gift of the discerning of spirits is divine revelation given to believers to identify God’s Spirit from foreign spirits. No one likes to acknowledge that, at times, foreign spirits operate in the Church and, therefore, this gift is controversial to many. 9
Even more controversial than the gift of the discerning of spirits is the gift of tongues.
The literal definition of this gift is “varieties of languages.”10 These are languages given to man which he has never learned. They are divinely given. Pentecostals generally distinguish between the kind of tongues that were given to the disciples on the day of Pentecost, that even now accompany the baptism in the Holy Spirit, and the gift of tongues which is used prophetically in the Church. However, any difference in kinds of tongues is one of function and not of kind. It will suffice for our study here to define tongues as divinely given utterances in languages given to a person, which that person has never learned. 11
A gift closely related to the gift of tongues is the gift of the interpretation of tongues. When a message from God is spoken through a person, this message sometimes is prophetically delivered in tongues. When this occurs, it is needful for someone to interpret the message so that it can be understood by other people. The gift of the interpretation of tongues is precisely this. It is revelation into the meanings of divine tongues. 12
Pentecostals believe in divine revelation. We believe that God speaks to His children and even to non-believers. God speaks primarily through His Word, the Bible, which He illuminates for our understanding. Secondly, God speaks through spiritual gifts which can carry meaning to individuals or groups.
While Pentecostalism had its most markable beginnings in the early 1900s as a spiritual revival rising out of the Azusa Street Mission, Los Angeles, and other centres of outpouring, the movement split into several large divisions. Second Work Holiness Pentecostals were the first group to emerge and are represented by the Azusa and Topeka leadership. This early form of Pentecostalism held to all of the tenets mentioned earlier and taught that the Holy Spirit’s restorative work was three-fold; conversion, then sanctification, then baptism in the Spirit. Each of these workings were regarded as separate graces, experienced in this order and complete in their experience and operation.
Finished Work Pentecostalism rose up following the latter visit of William Durham to Azusa. Durham taught that Christ’s work was finished on Calvary and that sanctification occurred at conversion. Though Durham was expelled from Azusa, his teaching became foundational for the Assemblies of God, the largest Pentecostal group today, and its sister organizations, The Pentecostal Assemblies.
The third Pentecostal group to form was Oneness Pentecostalism. This group initially came out of Finished Work Pentecostal churches and began with a dispute over baptismal formula. Oneness leaders believe that baptismal candidates should be baptized in Jesus’ name only, rather than saying “ … in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:” (Matthew 28:19). Oneness Pentecostals also came to reject the doctrine of the Trinity in favour of a more modalistic interpretation of the Godhead. In 1916 The Assemblies Of God adopted a Trinitarian affirmation to their statement of faith. This resulted in 156 Oneness ministers leaving or being expelled, leaving 429 Assemblies of God ministers.
Why did Oneness Pentecostals reject the Doctrine of the Trinity? A dispute arose over the fact that Jesus taught to baptize “ … in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:” (Matthew 28:19) and yet elsewhere in the New Testament, such as Acts 2:38 people were either instructed to be, or just were “…baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ…” While for most Pentecostals, the difference did not constitute a big theological conundrum, Oneness Pentecostals made an issue of it. They felt that the difference could only be explained by a modalistic interpretation of the Godhead, in which The Father, Son and Holy Spirit were encompassed by the one person and one name of Jesus. In time they layered their doctrinal position with other scriptures that they interpreted in a similar way. This is perhaps an over-simplification of their position. Oneness theology has apparently changed, evolved and splintered over the years, with some Oneness teachers incorporating elements of Nestorianism, Apollinarianism and Monophysitism. The UPCI (United Pentecostal Church International) even revised its articles of faith in 1995 to distance themselves from Sabellianism. This is where we need them to explain the fine details of the difference between their position and these things, if there is one. I do not intend on misrepresenting them in any way. I have always thought that Oneness, Modalism and Sabellinism were all the same thing. It is up to them to explain the fine details of any differences here, but this much is clear, Oneness Pentecostals reject the idea of three separate persons within the Godhead.
While some of this is not easy to explain, most Pentecostals and most Christians would readily admit that the Godhead is a great mystery and that none of us will understand it with detailed precision, this side of eternity. God will fine tune our understandings in eternity, when we have more information. However, on this side of eternity, the doctrine of the Trinity would seem to harmonize the greatest amount of scriptural information that we have, relating to the Godhead. It combines the truth that there is only one God (See 1 Kings 8: 60, Isaiah 45:5-6, Deuteronomy 4:35, John 17:3) with what apears to be a mysterious plurality within the Godhead (see Genesis 1:26, Genesis 3: 22, Matthew 28:19, John 1:1) The most mysterious of these verses is John 1:1 where even though the name “Holy Spirit” is not mentioned, it does claim that Jesus (The Word) is both with God and is God at the same time. For this reason I prefer a Classical Pentecostal interpretation of the Godhead (Trinitatian) to that of the Oneness Pentecostals.
Second Work Holiness Pentecostals and Finished Work Pentecostals began referring to themselves as Classical Pentecostals to distinguish themselves from Oneness Pentecostals and from Charismatics, who also believe in spiritual gifts.
Who then are the Charismatics? At the risk of over-simplifying, Charismatics were everyone else who claimed the experience of the Baptism of The Holy Spirit but did not fall into the category of Classical Pentecostals or Oneness Pentecostals. All of a sudden there was springing up tongue-talking Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians, Mennonites, Greek Orthodox, and even Catholics, among others. These became known as Charismatics. In time fellowships of Charismatics rose up. Church historians are quick to differentiate between Charismatics, those who had a Pentecostal understanding of spiritual gifts but stayed in the denominations where they came from and Neo-Charismatics, those who formed fellowships of churches in various movements.
There have been and still are many Neo-charismatic movements, too numerous to list but some of which include; Word of Faith Movement, Vineyard Movement, Shepherding Movement, Latter Rain Movement, the Apostolic Prophetic Movement, Bethel Movement. At this point it becomes harder and harder to define these groups. Remember Charismatics did not have a common statement of faith to begin with. Instead it was more of a common experience, or claimed common experience. As they further diversified, many Charismatics came to view firm doctrinal positions as being divisive and therefore negative.
One Charismatic group in particular, the Word Of Faith movement, came forward with a plethora of new doctrine that, in my opinion, has differed with not only Classical Pentecostalism but with historic Christianity. Minister Kenneth Hagin claimed to have received instruction from Jesus Christ personally, through various visions or encounters that he claims he had with Christ. However, his teachings closely follow the teachings of a lesser known E.W. Kenyon, whom Hagin copied extensively. Who was E.W. Kenyon? Kenyon began his ministry as a Methodist but also admitted to frequently attending the services of Minot J. Savage, one of the most well-known Unitarian teachers. He would later come to study at Emerson School of Oratory, a school led by Charles Wesley Emerson, who was studied in Unitarianism, Transcendentalism, New Thought and Christian Science. Kenyon’s teachings were re-packaged by Hagin and became the foundation for a host of new doctrines that, in my opinion, are quite foreign to Classical Pentecostalism and to Christianity. Many Word Faith teachers began popularizing ideas of faith being a creative force that God and men could activate through positive confession. Some began teaching that Christians were little gods. Some began teaching that Jesus died spiritually before the crucifixion and then later was born again in hell. Some began teaching a prosperity gospel where every Christian was to be rich and it was a bad witness to be poor. Many taught the law of tithing (they are not alone in that) and the law of sowing and reaping, which then was applied to giving to their ministries. Numerous Word of Faith ministers became fabulously wealthy off of their ministry, some owning lavish estates, expensive cars and even private jets.
In my opinion, the doctrine and excesses of the Word Of Faith Movement are a significant distortion of Christian theology. Please recognize that many within the Charismatic and Word Of Faith movements don’t understand what the most high-profile leaders of their movements really believe. Also, it must be noted and recognized that Word of Faith represents only one group of Charismatics. Many Charismatics would not affirm the doctrinal errors of Word of Faith. Although the Charismatic Movement is impossible to define in one umbrella statement of faith, I believe that Classical Pentecostalism is closer to the truth and a better reflection of Christian belief. However, we still join hands and hearts with our many precious Christian brothers and sisters within the Charismatic Movement.
Classical Pentecostalism has another little-known beauty that deserves mentioning and deserves respecting. This is something that most church historians do not say a peep about, yet if you read the early Pentecostal literature you will come across it. The Asusa Revival had another name, those who gathered at 312 Asaza St. were also known as “The Moneyless Church.” This is because the leaders were so concerned that they might quench the Spirit that they would not mention money issues in the services. It was feared that money-talk from the pulpit might grieve the Spirit and might bring the revival to a halt and it was not worth risking that consequence. From what I understand, there was a bucket at the back for anyone who would like to contribute financially to do so, if they so chose to do so. However, it was a very silent thing. Today many churches within Pentecostalism have slid and drifted far away from this ideal.
Pentecostalism began in the first century, on the day of Pentecost, in Jerusalem in Acts chapter 2. The disciples who followed Jesus during His earthly ministry lived with Him and were discipled by the Master personally. No group of Christians has ever had this level of training or had this quality of input. Was it enough for them to launch out into ministry upon being commissioned? No, it wasn’t. They had to tarry in Jerusalem to receive the promise. In obedience to Jesus they waited until they were endued with power from on high. This experience was mysteriously lost from the experience of most through the ages of church history, only appearing here and there on occasion. However in the twentieth century there was an eruption! A restoration! Azusa can not be ignored. Once again, there was a mighty rushing wind! Los Angeles became the modern Jerusalem.Though the movement had some splintering, Classical Pentecostalism emerged. Without committing to its pre-tribulationist views, I largely agree with Classical Pentecostalism. I believe that Classical Pentecostalism in many ways, represents a restoration of biblical Christianity in the Earth.
1 L. Thomas Hold croft, The Holy Spirit (Springfield : Gospel Publishing House, 1979), 146.
2 Ibid. 148.
3 Ibid. 156.
4 Ibid. 156.
5 Ibid. 154.
6 Ibid. 153.
7 Ibid. 158.
8 Ibid. 166-169.
9 Ibid. 150-151.
10 Ibid. 161.
11 Ibid. 160-163.
12 Ibid. 165
Encyclopedia of Pentecostal and Charismatic Christianity. Stanley M. Burgess, Ed. Religion & Society : A Berkshire Reference Work. New York: Routledge Taylor & Francis Group, 2006.
Holdcroft, L. Thomas. The Holy Spirit. Springfield: Gospel Publishing House, 1979.
Hanagraff, Hank. Christianity in Crisis. Harvest House Publishers, 1993.
McConnell, D.R. . A Different Gospel. Hendrick Publishers,1988.
Scripture taken from the King James Version.