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The Pentecostal Movement from 30,000 Feet

The Pentecostal Movement had two main roots: a Wesleyan and a non-Wesleyan root. In the Wesleyan tradition, Phoebe Palmer represents the movement well. She picked up on the doctrine of perfectionism – that it is possible to be freed from sin in this life. Palmer taught a “second blessing” which was an extraordinary work of the Spirit which would accomplish this perfection. Palmer was highly influential through various publications and had many opportunities to teach her perfectionism.

The other root is perhaps best illustrated in Dwight L. Moody. This root should be distinguished from the Phoebe Palmer brand of Pentecostalism since Moody did not see the Spirit as a second blessing and agent of perfectionism. Rather Moody saw the work of the Holy Spirit empowering him particularly for extraordinary evangelism. Moody did not seem to develop much of a distinct theology, but used his views of the Spirit’s work and moved forward in evangelistic work. This non-Wesleyan tradition did not emphasize baptism of the Holy Spirit but focused on the Spirit’s role in producing holy living. This was not perfectionism. Holy living was accomplished through sanctification which for this brand of Pentecostalism was best understood as an act of faith accomplished through the Spirit. The Moody style of Pentecostalism did not engender the perfectionist bent, but placed a premium on holy living in conjunction with evangelism.

William Boardman, another pillar of Pentecostalism, became influenced by this Pentecostal teaching and became involved in the Moody revivals in the Keswick perish of English. This Keswick movement (which is sometimes called the Higher Life movement) taught the second blessing/perfectionism doctrine and influenced many people. Charles Fox Parham was a teacher at a bible college, was one of these people. He taught that the baptism of the Holy Spirit was confirmed by the speaking of tongues. This teaching resulted in a large outbreak of tongues speaking on Azusa Street in Los Angeles – an event for which the LA Times picked up the story. The Times reported people speaking strange non-earthly languages and thus helped spread Pentecostalism by publicizing it.

It’s not too difficult to understand the growth of Pentecostalism. It was attractive to many because it was conservative, yet simple. It defended the inerrancy of the Bible, justification by faith, and the Trinity and therefore wasn’t too “scary” to the average church-goer. The Assemblies of God wrote these traditional beliefs into their statement of faith but they added what have become Pentecostal distinctives such as speaking in tongues as a confirmation of baptism of the Holy Spirit and premillennial eschatology.

A second wave of Pentecostalism which arose in the 1960s was concerned with the attendant signs and wonders of the Holy Spirit and a third wave incorporated much of what we consider the charismatic movement. John Wimber could be considered the father of the worship style found in many (if not most) American churches. Wimber was a music producer and following his conversion sought to incorporate contemporary music into the worship service. In some ways he was following the example of Aimee Semple McPherson. “Sister Aimee” as she was called was perhaps the first major figure to bring contemporary music to the church when she incorporated it into the services at her Angelus Temple (dedicated in 1923). Following her lead (perhaps unknowlingly) Wimber and the Vineyard Movement have had a huge impact on the worship services of Western Churches.

Today, the charismatic movement remains very preoccupied with the speaking of tongues. It has even stretched into non-Pentecostal spheres. Wayne Grudem in many ways has legitimated charismatic gifts for people holding to some reformed theology. John Piper, a Calvinistic baptist with covenantal leanings, has been very influnece by Grudem in this area. The Sovereign Grace Movement (CJ Mahaney, et al) is viewed by many as a reformed charismatic movement.

You can begin to see the strands of development and the complexities involved in understanding the Pentecostal Movement. It is a fascinating topic of study that helps us to understand much of what the Western Church has become. And according the Phillip Jenkins, the Pentecostal influence is not going to slow down anytime soon.

*As a matter of full-disclosure, this post is based on my notes from Jeff Jue’s Church in the Modern Age course taught at WTS.


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