Pentecostal revival continues to bring renewal to many
At the turn of the century, very few believers were known as Pentecostals. The designation meant little in the church world. Today it is estimated there are over 50 million Pentecostals throughout the world.
This phenomenal growth has received attention in religious circles and in the mass media. People have expressed strong opinions on what is right and wrong in Pentecostalism. As a member of the Pentecostal movement for 62 years, I would like to express what is right in Pentecostalism.
What is the basis of such an evaluation? Is a degree of success the criterion? No, the test to determine whether a movement is of God cannot be numerical growth alone. History shows that some religions at variance with the Word of God have also multiplied. Success in itself cannot be accepted as an indication that a movement is of God.
While the growth of Pentecostalism cannot be overlooked, an appraisal of what is right about it must be made on other grounds. We must evaluate with biblical principles as our guide.
1. Pentecostals hold a high view of Scripture. The origin of the movement in a sense was spontaneous, surfacing in many parts of the world at the same time. For this reason, it is impossible to credit a strong and capable human leader as the founder of the movement. People from various theological and denominational persuasions, in their earnest seeking after God, received experiences that paralleled the events of the early days of the church as it was described in-the New Testament. New converts were constantly added. They were introduced to Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord; they were also introduced to the person and work of the Holy Spirit.
Because early Pentecostal believers were usually ostracized by members of existing religious structures, they gravitated to those who shared their faith and experience. Some came from a Calvinistic background, others from an Arminian tradition. Some came from liturgical churches, others from churches where worship was less formal. While the initial prejudice of these early Pentecostals was against forming organizations, it soon became evident that organization was essential in order to preserve what God was doing.
A review of those early meetings and the resultant doctrinal statements will show that Pentecostals insisted the Bible, not experience, must be the rule of faith and conduct. Some differences exist in doctrine among Pentecostal denominations, but there is no variation on the authority of Scripture. Pentecostalism will always be grateful for those ministers in its formative years whose moorings were in the gramatico-historical hermeneutic. They helped apply sound biblical interpretation to the process of developing doctrinal statements.
2. Pentecostalism is in themainstream of theological orthodoxy. Pentecostal denominations are not off course on an isolated tributary. Fundamental doctrines in the historical creeds and confessions are prominent in Pentecostal preaching and teaching.
Among the great doctrines, Pentecostals hold without question that the Bible is the inspired and infallible Word of God. With very few exceptions, Pentecostals believe in one true God existing in three persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The deity of Christ is accepted, including the Virgin Birth, vicarious death, resurrection, and ascension. Man is seen as having been created in the image of God, marred by the Fall, and in need of the redemption that Christ provided on the cross.
The church is the body of Christ, made up of all who trust in Jesus Christ as Savior. This community of believers worships God, edifies fellow members, and evangelizes the lost. A literal heaven is the destiny of those who accept Jesus Christ as Savior. A literal place of everlasting punishment awaits those who reject him.
3. Pentecostals honor the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit equally. Because they hold that speaking in tongues is the initial evidence of the baptism in the Holy Spirit, some believe that the main message of Pentecostalism is the baptism in the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues.
Great biblical truths were underemphasized at various points in church history. Far-reaching spiritual movements usually were revivals of doctrine before they were revivals of people. When the truth of justification by faith seemed to be lost, God used men like Martin Luther to bring the truth into proper focus. When the truth of sanctification was neglected, God used men like John Wesley to bring revival. And when the person and work of the Holy Spirit were underemphasized, the Pentecostal movement proved to be a resurgence of interest in the person and work of the Holy Spirit.
In the revival of proper recognition of the Holy Spirit, Pentecostals are indebted to great Bible teachers like R. A. Torrey and evangelists like D. L. Moody. Though not Pentecostals, they taught that a person indwelt by the Holy Spirit at the time of regeneration needs a subsequent experience of being filled with the Holy Spirit. Almost all Pentecostals today believe that a person who has accepted Christ is indwelt by the Spirit. They also recognize that some people who lack what Pentecostals consider the baptism in the Spirit may more closely approximate their God-given potential than those who view the baptism in the Spirit as an end in itself.
Pentecostals differentiate between the Holy Spirit baptizing believers into the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13) and Christ baptizing them in the Holy Spirit (Matt. 3:12; Acts 1:5). We believe this baptism in the Spirit provides power for service (Acts 1:8).
The baptism in the Holy Spirit with speaking in tongues has been a distinctive message of Pentecostals, but it has not been the main message. As in the early days of the church, “Jesus Christ, and him crucified” is the heart of our message. Evangelism centers in the person and work of Jesus Christ. We recognize that an individual who has not accepted Jesus Christ is lost. There is salvation only in Jesus Christ and it comes by grace through faith alone. While we emphasize that a change in lifestyle should follow conversion, the transformed life is considered a result of salvation, not a condition. Christ’s atoning work is the only basis of salvation.
God the Father is also honored by Pentecostals. When we pray in the manner Jesus taught his disciples, we recognize God as a loving, heavenly Father concerned with every detail of the lives of his children. We honor him for his love, mercy, and grace, but we also honor and revere him for his holiness and justice.
In theology, life, and service, the relationship of the three persons in the Godhead is kept in focus. The words of the doxology, “Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,” express well the honor we ascribe to the triune God.
4. Pentecostals take seriously the Great Commission. One reason for the rapid growth of Pentecostalism is the wholehearted way in which we respond to the Great Commission. Our primary concern is not to build denominations, but to bring people into a right relationship with God through Jesus Christ.
While the special role of the clergy is recognized, one of their important responsibilities is to prepare every believer for ministry in the body of Christ (Eph. 4:12). The ideal of witnessing and ministering is frequently stressed. As a result, people often help others who have problems. They lead people to Jesus Christ apart from church services and then encourage them to join the fellowship of believers.
Concern for the lost, however, does not end with the immediate community. Reaching the uttermost parts of the earth has high priority. Pentecostal congregations ordinarily budget a sizable amount for missions. A constant stream of missionary candidates prepares for assignment overseas.
Ministry to human need is included in obeying the Great Commission. When tragedy strikes, such as earthquakes or acts of human terror, Pentecostals respond with help for the material needs of people. When problems such as drug addiction develop, Pentecostals help addicts discover the deliverance Christ can provide. Organizations like Teen Challenge have helped many find their way back to meaningful living. Where health care or education are lacking, Pentecostals seek to fill the gap.
5. Pentecostals seek to be responsive to the Holy Spirit in worship. While Pentecostal churches usually follow an order of service, worshipers are encouraged to follow the leadership of the Holy Spirit. They testify to the goodness of God in helping them with difficult experiences. They manifest the gifts of the Holy Spirit referred to by Paul in 1 Corinthians 12–14. Because of their nature, some manifestations by Pentecostals, such as speaking in tongues with interpretation and prophecy, are more obvious than other gifts of the Spirit. People with physical needs are remembered in prayer and encouraged to look to God for a gift of healing. At times believers lift their voices in one accord of prayer and worship similar to the event described in Acts 4:24.
Pentecostals recognize that where fallible humans are involved, excesses occur. Not everything that happens is credulously accepted as a manifestation of the Holy Spirit. The principles of love, consideration for others, and edification of the congregation outlined by Paul are practiced. Prophetic utterances and interpretations of tongues are to be judged by Scripture in general and by the guidelines spelled out in I Corinthians in particular. Evaluation of manifestations is encouraged, just as is responsiveness to the Holy Spirit.
Pentecostals also believe strongly that doctrine must be based on a proper interpretation of Scripture and not on experience. Improper procedure here leads to aberrations that reflect adversely on the cause of Christ. As Paul points out in 1 Corinthians 14, when proper procedure is followed, the results will be salutary.
Great significance is attached to the preaching and teaching of God’s Word in Pentecostal services, and there is frequently an enhancement of the worship experience as the Holy Spirit manifests himself through responsive believers.
6. Pentecostalism maintains a spirit of cooperation with evangelicals. Whenever efforts are made by Bible-believing Christians to work together, Pentecostals are supportive. In continuing organizations such as the National Association of Evangelicals, they actively seek the success of established objectives. Pentecostals cooperate in special endeavors, such as the American Festival of Evangelism, to maximize their effectiveness.
Nor does cooperation stop at the national level. In local communities, Pentecostals work with other evangelicals in evangelism crusades, media presentations, holiday celebrations, surveys of communities to determine both spiritual and physical needs, and Christian schools.
There are various reasons why a spirit of cooperation prevails. Certainly one of the most prominent is recognition that everyone who has accepted Christ as Savior is a member of his body. The Pentecostal experience does not constitute a spiritually elite portion of the church. We are constantly reminded of the biblical truth that all believers are what they are because of grace, not human merit. We are members of one body, and there is no place in it for status seeking. Every believer has a God-given role to fill.
Though doctrinal differences exist among evangelicals, Pentecostals seek to function cooperatively because Scripture teaches us to maintain the unify of the Spirit until we all come to the unify of the faith. We hold that the truths that unite us are far greater than those over which differences exist. In honest effort to honor the lordship of Christ, and in recognition of the task of reaching a lost world, Pentecostals want to cooperate with every member of the body of Christ to bring glory to God.
In the course of church history, there probably have been more than 20 revivals of a charismatic nature. These revivals seemed to terminate without a lasting impression or far-reaching influence in the world. Their limited accomplishment and early cessation usually resulted from weakness in biblical theology.
The present Pentecostal revival has continued for over 80 years, during which it has made an impact around the world for the glory of God. The lesson is obvious. As Pentecostalism holds to the authority of Scripture, the centrality of Jesus Christ, as well as the sovereignty of the Holy Spirit, it will continue to fill the role for which it came into existence.
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