THE ORIGINS, GROWTH AND SIGNIFICANCE OF THE PENTECOSTAL MOVEMENTS IN THE THIRD WORLD

         

Dr Allan Anderson

          Director: Centre for the Study of New Religious Movements

        Selly Oak Colleges, Birmingham B29 6LQ, England

 

                     1 INTRODUCTION

The pentecostals are the fastest growing movement within Christianity today with almost 500 million adherents worldwide (Barrett 1997:25), now predominantly a Third World phenomenon. This reflection on the origins, growth and significance of the pentecostal and charismatic movements examines the fundamental contribution made by Pentecostalism to what Harvey Cox (1996) has described as “the reshaping of religion in the twenty-first century”. Pentecostal and charismatic renewal movements are concerned primarily with the experience of the “baptism in the Holy Spirit”, accompanied by “gifts of the Holy Spirit”, especially speaking in tongues, prophecy and healing. The term “pentecostal” was taken from the Day of Pentecost experience of Acts 2:4, probably the distinguishing “proof text” of Pentecostalism, when believers in Jerusalem were “all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance”. This experience of being “filled” or “baptised” with the Holy Spirit is that which distinguishes pentecostal Christians (in their own view) from others (Anderson 1992:2). The term “pentecostal” is intentionally used here more inclusively than it is used by western pentecostals, to embrace a wide variety of different movements (Anderson 1992:5; Hollenweger 1972:149, 151).

 

    2 ORIGINS IN METHODISM AND NORTH AMERICAN REVIVALISM

None of the earlier manifestations of spiritual gifts and speaking in tongues, such as those recorded in the early church among the Montanists, among the Anabaptists during the Reformation, and among Quakers, French Huguenots, Shakers and Mormons  (Kelsey 1981:33) had any direct influence upon Pentecostalism. Its immediate background was the North American Holiness movement (Anderson 1979:28) based on the teaching of John Wesley, who was himself influenced by the Moravians, an offshoot of German Pietism (Land 1993:49). Pietism emphasised the importance of feeling in Christian experience and encouraged a personal relationship with God. The Moravian movement had a profound effect upon Wesley and the Methodist revival. In 1727 the Moravian community at Herrnhut received an outpouring of the Spirit that resulted in a round-the-clock prayer meeting that lasted continuously for 100 years. In some early Methodist revival meetings there were unusual manifestations of the Holy Spirit. Wesley himself said that charismatic gifts were withdrawn when dry, formal, orthodox men began to ridicule them, and that these gifts had returned to some of his fellow Methodists (Dayton 1987:44-45). Wesley's doctrine of a second blessing that he called sanctification or “perfect love” was a central emphasis of early Methodism. This teaching of a crisis experience subsequent to conversion was Wesley’s main contribution to Pentecostalism. Eventually in the late nineteenth century a polarisation within Methodism occurred between those who believed Wesley's "second blessing" teaching and those who did not. The latter remained within mainstream Methodism.

North American revivalism stressed the role of the emotions in changing the life of an individual. Charles Finney (d. 1876) had an experience in 1821 in his law office which he called "a mighty baptism of the Holy Spirit", when the Holy Spirit descended on him "in waves and waves of liquid love" (Culpepper 1977:45). Finney's dependence on the presence of the Holy Spirit gave his message a profound emotional impact, and his revivalistic theology was another significant influence on Pentecostalism. The Holiness movement was a reaction to “liberalism” in established churches and it stood for a fundamentalistic view of the Bible, the need for a personal and individual experience of conversion and the moral perfection (holiness) of the Christian. None of the major churches emphasised these principles and gradually "Holiness Churches" separated, characterised by revivalism accompanied by ecstatic phenomena, spread through “camp meetings” held all across North America. In the ten years between 1895 and 1905, over twenty separate Holiness denominations were set up. These included the Church of the Nazarene (1895), the Christian and Missionary Alliance (1887), the Pilgrim Holiness Church, the Wesleyan Methodist Church and the Church of God (1886). In this way a door opened for the further fragmentation that later took place within Pentecostalism. The Keswick Convention, which began annual gatherings in England in 1875, recognised two distinct experiences of “new birth” and the “fullness of the Spirit”. In the Holiness movement the phrase “baptism with the Spirit” came to be used increasingly to indicate the "second blessing", and towards the end of the nineteenth century Spirit baptism was not understood by some in terms of “holiness”, but as an empowering for service (Faupel 1996:85). In particular, this change in emphasis was taught by the evangelist Reuben Torrey, who said that the form of the power received would vary according to different gifts of the Spirit. Some Holiness teachers began to say that the spiritual gifts were connected to the power of the Spirit and should still be in operation, and some spoke of Spirit baptism as a "third blessing" to be sought. The groundwork was laid for the pentecostal movement (Culpepper 1977:46-47).

 

3 PENTECOSTAL ROOTS

3.1 The Apostolic Faith

In 1900 Charles Fox Parham, a former Methodist minister, opened Bethel Bible College in Topeka, Kansas and about 40 students were enrolled (Goff 1988). Their only textbook was the Bible and Parham gave the students the assignment of discovering some certain common evidence of the baptism in the Holy Spirit, before he left on a preaching trip. The students reached the conclusion that the biblical evidence of the baptism in the Spirit was speaking in tongues, which they told Parham on his return. The 31 December 1900 was set aside for praying for this experience. A “watchnight” service was held with great expectation. Throughout 1 January they prayed and waited until finally at 11pm, Agnes Ozman asked Parham to lay hands on her to receive the gift of the Spirit. She was reportedly the first to speak in tongues, followed by others in the next three days, including Parham. For two years there was little acceptance of this experience. In 1903 Parham preached at Holiness missions in Kansas and Missouri, where there were many experiences of tongues and healings. By 1905 there were said to be about a thousand who had received the baptism in the Spirit, and the movement was now known as the “Apostolic Faith” (Faupel 1996:158-180). In that year Parham started preaching in Texas and began a Bible College in Houston, where a black preacher named William Joseph Seymour, a son of freed slaves, was allowed to listen to Parham’s lectures outside the classroom through a half-opened door, and in spite of this racism he became convinced of Parham's views (:194-197). The leadership of the movement was soon to pass to Seymour and take on international dimensions (Anderson 1979:61).

 

3.2 The Azusa Street Revival

In 1906 Seymour was invited to preach at a black Holiness church in Los Angeles, where his sermon on tongues caused the church building to be locked against him. Members of this church continued meeting in a house with Seymour for prayer. Seymour's black Baptist host asked the preacher to lay hands on him, fell to the floor as if unconscious and began speaking in tongues. Seven others including Seymour were "struck from their chairs" the same day, receiving the same experience. For three days and nights the house was filled with people praying and rejoicing continuously and loudly. Whites soon joined this group and the house became too small. They moved into an old storage shed in Azusa Street (a former building of the African Methodist Episcopal Church) where the Apostolic Faith Mission was born (Faupel 1996: 200-202). With a sawdust-sprinkled floor and wooden planks to sit on, daily meetings commenced at about ten in the morning and usually lasted well into the night for the next three years. These services were completely spontaneous, without planned programmes or speakers. The racial integration in these meetings was unique at that time of Jim Crow laws, and people from ethnic minorities discovered “the sense of dignity and community denied them in the larger urban culture” (Anderson 1979:69). For the next three or four years the revival in Azusa Street was the centre of Pentecostalism. People came from all over the western world to Azusa Street to see what was happening and to be baptised in the Spirit. Adverse press reports helped publicise this revival (Faupel 1996:202-205). Parham came to “control” this phenomenon and was disgusted by the “animalism” and particularly by the interracial fellowship (:208- 209). He misinterpreted his authority and was rejected as leader, never reconciled with Seymour and went into obscurity and eventual disgrace (:182-186). Amongst other things, Parham later taught that the white Anglo-Saxon Protestants were the privileged descendants of the lost tribes of Israel, and he spoke in glowing terms of the Ku Klux Klan (Anderson 1979:190). But William Seymour and not Parham must be considered originator of much of present-day Pentecostalism. Twenty-six different pentecostal denominations trace their origins to Azusa Street, including the largest, the Assemblies of God. People went there from Europe and other parts of North America and went back with the "baptism", and pentecostal missionaries were sent out all over the world, reaching over 25 nations in two years (:212-226). But although Azusa Street is probably the most significant cradle of world-wide Pentecostalism, there are significant pentecostal movements, particularly in Chile, West Africa and India, which were not directly connected with this revival, developing out of indigenous revival movements of their own.

 

3.3 The African Roots

There are several theories about the origins of Pentecostalism (Robeck 1993:166), but the generation of the movement from a black church rooted in the African American culture of the nineteenth century is an extremely significant fact. Many early manifestations of Pentecostalism were found in the religious expressions of the slaves and were themselves a reflection of the African religious culture from which they had been wrenched (Anderson 1991:27). Seymour himself was deeply affected by black slave spirituality (Nelson 1981: 157-158). Black pentecostal scholar Leonard Lovett said that “black Pentecostalism emerged out of the context of the brokenness of black existence... their holistic view of religion had its roots in African religion” (MacRobert 1988:77-78). Hollenweger (1986:5-6) considers the main features of this African American spirituality to be oral liturgy, narrative theology and witness, the maximum participation of the whole community in worship and service, the inclusion of visions and dreams into public worship, and understanding the relationship between body and mind manifested by healing through prayer. MacRobert (1988:29) adds that rhythmic hand clapping, the antiphonal participation of the congregation in the sermon, the immediacy of God in the services and baptism by immersion (all common pentecostal practices) are “survivals of Africanisms”. These expressions were fundamental to early Pentecostalism and remain in the movement to this day. The African roots of Pentecostalism help explain its significance in the Third World today. But as Robert Anderson (1979:222) observes, a movement which was “born of radical social discontent ... expended its revolutionary impulses in veiled, ineffectual, displaced attacks that amounted to withdrawal from the social struggle” in its subsequent history. This originally working class and racially integrated movement was designed to protest against the social system which marginalised its members, but it eventually “functioned in a way that perpetuated that very system”.

 

4 MISSIONS AND GLOBAL GROWTH

Many of the first pentecostals believed that they had been given foreign languages through Spirit baptism by which to preach the gospel throughout the world. The first North American missionaries that went out after the Azusa Street revival were self-supporting. Alfred and Lilian Garr, who believed they had spoken in Bengali when they received the Spirit at Azusa Street, left Los Angeles for India, arriving in Calcutta in 1907, where they were invited to conduct pentecostal revival services in a Baptist church. Quite independently of this event and only eight kilometres away, a revival broke out in a girls’ orphanage run by Fanny Simpson, a Methodist missionary from Boston, who was thereupon dismissed and sent back to the United States. She returned to India as a pentecostal missionary in 1920 and set up another orphanage in Purulia (McClung 1986: 28-30). Canadian evangelist John G Lake travelled to South Africa in 1908 and established the Apostolic Faith Mission there (Anderson 1992:21). Others left for the Bahamas in 1910 and for British East Africa in 1911. Two single women, Kathleen Miller and Lucy James, left for India from Britain under the Pentecostal Missionary Union in 1909, followed by four others a year later. One of these, John Beruldsen, spent 35 years in North China (McClung 1986:17). Pentecostal phenomena broke out in a missionary convention in Taochow, China in 1912 when William Simpson, missionary in China and Tibet for many years, became a pentecostal.  North American revivalist Willis Hoover, Methodist minister in Valparaiso, Chile, had heard of the orphanage revival in Calcutta and that in Oslo among his fellow Methodists. The revival in his church in 1909 resulted in Hoover’s expulsion from the Methodist Church in 1910 and the formation of the Methodist Pentecostal Church (Wagner 1973:17), to become an indigenous church and the largest non-Catholic denomination in Chile, where pentecostals now constitute 15% of the total population (Martin 1990:29). In 1909 the pentecostal message was taken to Italian communities in Brazil by Luis Francescon. In 1910 two Swedish immigrants, Gunnar Vingren and Daniel Berg, began what became the Assemblies of God in Brazil, now the largest Protestant denomination in Latin America and the largest pentecostal denomination in the world (Wagner 1973:23-25).

The healing campaigns of North American Pentecostalism, which contributed to the growth of western forms of Pentecostalism in many parts of the world, developed after the Second World War and had their peak in the fifties. Leading independent healing evangelists at this time were William Branham, TL Osborne, Oral Roberts and Tommy Hicks, and remarkable healings and miracles were reported in their campaigns. At first Branham and later Roberts were probably the most widely travelled and acclaimed. Hicks was responsible for a revival in Argentina in 1954 resulting in accelerated growth among pentecostal churches there (Wagner 1973:20), and Osborne had large crowds at his crusades in Africa. But quite apart from these efforts of North American pentecostals, Pentecostalism continued to expand in the Third World in many different forms. Taken as a whole, the pentecostal movement is the fastest growing section of Christianity this century, one of the most remarkable occurrences in church history. Over ninety years after Azusa Street, there are an estimated 497 million “Pentecostals/ Charismatics”, or 27% of the world’s Christian population, more than the total number of “Protestants” and “Anglicans” combined. Barrett (1997:25) calculates that if present trends continue, the figure is likely to rise to 1,140 million or 44% of the Christian world total by 2025. Furthermore, two thirds of Pentecostalism is now a Third World movement, and only a quarter of its members are white (Land 1993:21). There are many movements throughout the world, like thousands of African initiated churches, which are phenomenologically “pentecostal” movements but have developed a form of Christianity quite different from western Pentecostalism. Pentecostals have taken on quite different characteristics in different parts of the world largely because “freedom in the Spirit” often allows them to be more flexible in developing their own culturally relevant forms of expression.

In recent years the greatest increases in pentecostal movements have been in sub-Saharan Africa, Indonesia (where there are almost six million pentecostals), the Philippines, South Korea, China and especially Latin America, where the growth has been so phenomenal that scholars are asking whether the continent is turning “Protestant” (Stoll 1990). In Brazil, Chile, Guatemala and Nicaragua, pentecostals far outnumber all other Protestants and may soon be the majority of the population (Cox 1996:168). In Brazil and Nicaragua they are 20% of the population, and in Guatemala, 30%. Pentecostals are also growing rapidly in the Caribbean, particularly in Jamaica, Puerto Rico and Haiti (Martin 1990:51). The rapidly growing house church movement in China is mostly of an indigenous pentecostal type, said to number over fifty million. The largest Christian congregation in the world, with 800 000 members in 1995 is the pentecostal Yoido Full Gospel Church in Seoul, Korea (Cox 1996:221). Enormous buildings holding thousands of worshippers reflect the emerging pentecostal middle class in some parts of the world. Pentecostals in the Third World, however, are usually and predominantly grassroots movements appealing especially to the disadvantaged and underprivileged. Many, if not most, of the rapidly growing Christian churches in the Third World are pentecostal, indigenous, and operate independently of western Pentecostalism. The phenomenon is so significant that the author of The Secular City, Harvey Cox (1996:83), in his recent book Fire from Heaven: the rise of pentecostal spirituality and the reshaping of religion in the twenty-first century, reverses his well known position on secularisation. He now speaks of Pentecostalism as a manifestation of the “unanticipated reappearance of primal spirituality in our time”.

Since the 1980s large independent pentecostal congregations have sprung up all over the world, particularly in Africa, Latin America and North America, some of which form loose co-operative associations. There were an estimated 100 000 “White-led independent Charismatic churches” in 1988, most of which were in North America (Land 1993:22). In many parts of Africa the “new pentecostals” are the fastest growing section of Christianity, appealing especially to younger, educated urban people. Some of these churches have been criticised for propagating a “prosperity gospel” which seems to reproduce a form of North American capitalism in Christian guise. But there is a danger of generalising in making this assessment, especially when there might be a failure to appreciate the reconstruction and innovations made by these new pentecostals in adapting to a radically different context (Gifford 1992:8).

 

5 TYPES OF PENTECOSTAL MOVEMENTS

Those pentecostal churches whose historical origins are found at the beginning of this century and who subscribe to the “initial evidence” theory that speaking in tongues is the evidence of the “baptism in the Spirit” are sometimes referred to as “Classical Pentecostals”. The largest of these denominations is the Assemblies of God, mainly a white church in the USA but largest in Brazil. Classical Pentecostals are themselves divided into various types, which are as distinct as other divisions within Protestantism. Henry Lederle (1988:16-20) speaks of three main doctrinal groupings of Classical Pentecostals:

(1) Wesleyan-Holiness Pentecostals, (“three stage”), including the large, predominantly black Church of God in Christ, the Church of God (Cleveland) and the Pentecostal Holiness Church, among others, all of which were a direct development from the Holiness Movement. The largest Black-led churches in Britain are of this type.

(2) Baptistic Pentecostals, (“two stage”), of which the Assemblies of God is the largest, developing after the “finished work” controversy initiated by William Durham of Chicago.

(3) Oneness Pentecostals, mostly “two stage” churches, developing after the “new issue” division of 1916 which rejected Trinitarianism. The largest of these churches is the United Pentecostal Church, which is particularly strong in Colombia (Wagner 1973:37).

In reality, the division between “Wesleyan-Holiness” and “Baptistic” pentecostals is no longer as distinctive as it used to be. Most Classical Pentecostals in the USA practise adult baptism by immersion. In other parts of the world, Pentecostalism has taken on many forms quite different from those of North America, and in a global context the North American types are not really meaningful. The Methodist Pentecostal Church, largest pentecostal denomination in Chile, for example, practises infant baptism and follows some Methodist liturgy. Many pentecostal groups, including some of the largest pentecostal churches in Europe and Latin America and many in the so-called Charismatic Movement, do not insist on the “initial evidence” of tongues (Lederle 1988:27). Some groups, particularly older African initiated pentecostal churches, use more ritual symbolism in their liturgy than others do. It may be very difficult to conclude what is meant by “pentecostal” today, but perhaps the term is best understood as referring to those movements with an emphasis on the experience of the power of the Holy Spirit with accompanying manifestations of the imminent presence of God.

Walter Hollenweger (1996) has classified Pentecostalism into three types: (1) Classical pentecostals; (2) the Charismatic renewal movement; and (3) pentecostal or “pentecostal-like” indigenous churches in the Third World. There are other terms which are used like “neo-pentecostal”, referring to those churches and movements which have their origins in the Charismatic Movement which began in 1960, including the so-called “non-denominational” and “new” churches. Some of these churches have departed quite significantly in many respects from the “Classical” position and some are also referred to as “Third Wave” churches (such as the Vineyard Association founded by John Wimber). There are also very large numbers of “Catholic Pentecostals” who retain their allegiance to Rome. Pentecostalism must be seen as a movement that has many widely divergent forms, rather than as a homogeneous denomination. Robert Anderson (1979:4) points out that whereas western “Classical Pentecostals” usually define themselves in terms of the doctrine of “initial evidence”, the pentecostal movement is more correctly seen in a much broader context. It should be seen as a movement concerned primarily with the experience of the working of the Holy Spirit and the practice of spiritual gifts.

 

REFERENCES

Anderson, Allan 1991. Moya: The Holy Spirit in an African context. Pretoria: Unisa Press

Anderson, Allan 1992. Bazalwane: African Pentecostals in South Africa. Pretoria: Unisa Press

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Martin, David 1990. Tongues of Fire: the explosion of Protestantism in Latin America. Oxford: Basil Blackwell

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(C) Allan Anderson