I have a weird relationship with Pentecostalism.
I was raised in a church that was basically Pentecostal, in that it broke off from a church which was Pentecostal, though never officially entering a Pentecostal denomination. Then, I moved to the Pentecostal church that it broke off from and spent my formative years as a teen until recently there, now attending another Pentecostal church. Though I never denounced Pentecostalism, I navigated through numerous branches of theology and traditions. However, I ended up back in Pentecostalism, both through some awesome Pentecostal people who taught me the truly incredible nature of Pentecostalism, and through a number of other non-Pentecostal people (including Anglicans, Anabaptists, Eastern Orthodox, and more).
However, I am extremely proud to claim Pentecostalism. Most people, when they think of Pentecostalism, only think about speaking in tongues, corrupt money-hungry televangelists, and a number of other things. In the words of Pentecostal preacher, Jonathan Martin, “Pentecostals are not fundamentalists who speak in tongues.” Pentecostalism has a rich beginning, legacy, and worldview. Some Pentecostals may have deviated from its beauty, but it is inherent within the movement.
I’m not saying Pentecostalism is the only way to go or that it’s better than anything else. There are just some beautiful things about it. As Pentecostals could definitely stand to listen to the voice of the larger Church throughout the centuries, there are definitely elements which Pentecostalism is speaking that the larger Church should listen to as well. So, here are some of the things I love about my Pentecostal heritage.
1) Pentecostalism emphasizes the kingdom of God, right here and now.
Pentecostals have a “passion for the kingdom.” They believe that heaven isn’t just a future place, but it is a present reality. Jesus meant what he said when he told his disciples to pray, “Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” That isn’t speaking only about some future reign of God, but the rule of God being manifested right here and now. Holiness isn’t about wearing ankle dresses or not going to see movies. Pentecostal holiness is about existing in love and living out the future kingdom right here in the present. Heaven is constantly breaking through on earth. That’s what Pentecost, where Pentecostalism gets its name and where the whole Church was born, was all about after all.
Heaven coming on earth may look like the sick being healed, since we all will be healed one day. It may look like spiritual restoration, since we all will be reconciled to God one day. It may look like speaking in a heavenly tongue, since we all will speaking praises to God in one common language one day. In Pentecostalism, everyone is a prophet. Not in the “fortune teller” way, but in that we are all witnessing to a beautiful reality yet to come, where sin and death is no more, and demonstrating that here in the present. Pentecostals are looking for God’s kingdom to come and God’s will to be done through us right now.
2) Pentecostalism breaks down barriers.
The early Pentecostals were breaking down the dividing wall of hostility which had separated countless groups. At Azusa Street (a Pentecostal revival in Los Angeles which began in 1906), they were upsetting everyone due to their radical unity, despite differences. One of the biggest scandals was the racial integration that occurred at this revival. Even in 1906, blacks and whites were gathering together at this revival to celebrate and worship the same Lord. When a movement is centered around the pouring out of the Spirit on all flesh, it’s hard to discriminate due to anything.
At this place, people of all ethnicities united, both men and women were preaching and leading, the rich and poor worshipped together, and both young and old people were filled with the Holy Spirit. Pentecostalism in its prime form is a movement that invites people to unite no matter of race, gender, class, age, and so on. If people from every tribe, tongue, and nation will worship and reign together in the future, then it has to be so in the present. Pentecostalism not only accepts everyone, but it also allows every member to get actively involved in the community. There is no divide, even in leadership. No matter what the barrier is, a Pentecostal has to submit to the God who saves both the Jew and Greek, man and woman, slave or free.
3) Pentecostalism has a passion for justice and peace.
Since Pentecostalism both emphasizes the kingdom and breaks down barriers, the movement has in its DNA a passion to seek justice and make peace. It takes seriously Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, like in places where it says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled,” and, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” Pentecostals believe that God is making the world right (justice) and that the way of our Lord is the way of peace. Therefore, we are called to actively make the world right and make and live in peace.
Again, the early Pentecostals demonstrated this by opening soup kitchens and doing other things to combat injustices like poverty. Since the movement was made up largely of poor and lower class people, they had an idea of what being marginalized was like. Though this passion was sadly lost as the movement grew, in the early days they stood up against things like racism and sexism, allowing people of color and women to be pastors and serve in leadership roles. They were hungered and thirsted for justice. They also contended for both living peacefully and actively seeking peace in the world. They were not a violent people, nor did they think that violence was the way of the kingdom. As the Scriptures said, they served the Prince of Peace and lived a life that reflected that reality.
4) Pentecostalism is a worldwide movement.
I am a guy who always considers the capital C “Church”. The holy, catholic Church comprises of all who claim Jesus as their Lord and Savior. That being so, Pentecostalism is not just a movement that is confined to the United States. It has spread over the entire earth. In Latin America, the majority of Protestants are in fact Pentecostal (though one could make the argument that Pentecostalism is not merely a Protestant movement). Pentecostalism is also huge in Africa and Asia. Even if the churches aren’t officially a part of a Pentecostal denomination, often times most churches in foreign countries (especially so-called “Third World” countries) maintain Pentecostal/Charismatic beliefs and convictions.
When I am claim to be a Pentecostal, I am placing myself in something that is bigger than myself. In a culture where individualism and elitism, I am forced to be humbled by being a part of a movement that was not limited to a certain location or group. It isn’t just confined to the American South, where I was born and raised. It isn’t even confined to the U.S.! It is a movement that God has used to sweep the whole world with the beauty of his gospel. The same Pentecostal experience that I have had is the same Pentecostal experience that someone in Africa has had, because it is the same Spirit who has filled us both. Pentecostalism has affectively made progress in making disciples of all nations. Through this particular tradition and movement, I am connected to people from those nations.
5) Pentecostalism tells a beautiful story.
One of Pentecostalism’s roots is in black spirituality. And one thing that it passed down to Pentecostalism is the oral nature of the faith and the emphasis on narratives. In a postmodern society, we need a place where people from different narratives can have their stories validated in a trusting and intimate community. Pentecostals have traditionally called this “sharing testimonies” or “witnessing”. This is when someone tells their own story and how that narrative relates to the metanarrative of the community. Pentecostals see redemption history and the Bible not simply as a book of rules or theological facts, but an overarching story—one in which we are still participating in today. It’s not something that an individual has to force into their own story, but a metanarrative that makes sense of, gives meaning to, and distinctly celebrates each individual’s own narrative.
Pentecostals will sit around for hours and exchange “Holy Ghost stories”. Pentecostal laypeople will inform their theology by their personal experience and vice-versa. Preachers are always referencing the stories of the Old Testament in their sermons, telling the narrative of Israel and relating it our own story, just as the slaves of old did with Moses and his deliverance of the Jews from slavery. We are a community that takes seriously the truth that we are overcoming by the blood of the Lamb and the word of our testimony. Not only is it a place where stories can be told, but it is a place where people are heard and their stories are listened to, no matter who you are or where you come from. And that’s something that is needed in the Church today.
This is why I am Pentecostal. Not all Pentecostals today include these rich aspects of this beautiful traditional into their church. But, I guess that’s another reason why I’m Pentecostal. Pentecostals have such a strong voice in America today and I want to help a group in such a powerful position rediscover the beauty of this legacy that they are a part of. I want to speak to Pentecostalism to help it where it falls short and speak for Pentecostalism to the wider Christian tradition. I want to help the subversive nature of Pentecostalism come back to surface of this movement, so that when people hear the word “Pentecostalism”, they won’t think of handling snakes, the extreme Christian Right, financial fraud, nationalism, or any other negative stereotype. They’ll think of a people passionate about Jesus, his kingdom, and living to make that kingdom come and his will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
That’s why I proudly consider myself a part of Pentecostalism.