What is Pentecostalism


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 center 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 ministry of Charles Fox Parham and the Topeka, Kansas, outpourings of 1901 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 emphasizing Jesus Christ, sanctification, the baptism of the Holy Spirit, 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 tongues that were given to the disciples on the day of Pentecost, accompanying the baptism in the Holy Spirit, and the gift of tongues which were used prophetically in the Early Church. This same distinguishing of different kinds of tongues is made of tongues today. 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 centers 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 favor of a modalistic interpretation of the Godhead.

Second Work Holiness Pentecostals and Finished Work Pentecostals began referring to themselves as Classical Pentecostals to distinguish themselves from Oneness Pentecostals and

Charismatics, who also believe in spiritual gifts.

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.
May the spiritual influence of these movements continue and thrive in our day.

Shawn Stevens


1 L. Thomas Holdcroft, 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.

Scripture taken from the  King James Version.

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