Releasing the Spirit: the Pentecostals
Over the last two or three generations, a third major force has sprung up within Christianity. The Catholic and Orthodox have traditionally formed one strand of the Christian rope, with their stress on church and sacrament. Protestants have been a second strand, highlighting personal commitment to Jesus Christ. Now the Pentecostals, though originating from within Protestantism, have come to represent a third strand. Their emphasis is that we all need a liberating personal experience of the Holy Spirit. The name 'Pentecostal' refers to the apostles' experience on the Day of Pentecost, when they began to 'speak in other tongues' in what some call a 'baptism of the Holy Spirit'.
A 1982 survey put the number of Pentecostals worldwide at around 51 million - the largest distinct category of Protestants. Add to this around 11 million Protestants and Roman Catholics who follow Pentecostal practices (see Worldwide Renewal), plus the African Independent Churches (see An African Way} - most of which are Pentecostal in style - then the figure probably exceeds the 100 million mark; by the year 2000 their numbers may well top 200 million. In Christian terms, the twentieth century could certainly be called 'the Pentecostal Century': from nil to 200 million in 100 years is prodigious growth by any standards!
But how did it all begin?
The traditional starting-point of the Pentecostal movement was as the clock struck twelve on 31 December 1900 - the last seconds of the nineteenth century and the first of the twentieth. The setting was Bethel Bible College in Topeka, a small town in Kansas, USA. Towards the end of 1900 the college principal, a Methodist called Charles Parham, asked his students to find out the biblical evidence of the ...