Pentecostal Beliefs

What do Pentecostals believe? This article surveys and evaluates distinctive Pentecostal beliefs.

Emerging in the early twentieth century, Pentecostal beliefs represent an attempt to return to literal biblical Christianity as some believed it was practiced in the primitive church. The core belief is that the hallmark of normative Christianity must be a modern experience of Pentecost, referred to as “the baptism in the Holy Spirit.” Proof of this baptism is demonstrated by speaking in a tongue (language) unknown to the speaker.

Pentecostal beliefs have their roots in an alliance of Black Christianity with the Holiness movements of the 18th and 19th centuries. John Wesley, founder of Methodism, had emphasized a distinction between ordinary believers and those who had been sanctified by a second, crisis experience, subsequent to conversion. American revivalists in seeking greater rights for blacks promoted the Wesleyan view. They were convinced that “Holy Spirit power” was needed not just to win people for Christ, but also to correct social, economic, and political problems.

The Fathers of Pentecostal Beliefs

Charles Parham

Charles Fox Parham (1873-1929), a Methodist preacher turned healer and revivalist, founded Bethel Bible School in Topeka, KS in 1900 to prepare prospective missionaries for Spirit-filled Christian service. Parham and his students studied the narrative of the initial Christian experience of the Holy Spirit recorded in Acts 2 in the expectation of their own reception of this blessing.

On New Year’s Day, 1901, student Agnes Ozman received the anticipated baptism accompanied with speaking in unknown languages (glossolalia). Parham recounts the historic happening:

"I laid my hands upon her and prayed. I had scarcely repeated three dozen sentences when a glory fell upon her, a halo seemed to surround her head and face, and she began speaking in the Chinese language and was unable to speak English for three days. When she tried to write in English to tell us of her experience she wrote Chinese, copies of which we still have in newspapers printed at that time."

Within days Parham and most of the other students had similar experiences. He believed that his group had experienced an outpouring of the “latter rain” and that the end of the age was at hand.

The churches and newspapers of Topeka and Kansas City harshly criticized Parham's Pentecostal beliefs.

William Seymour

In 1905, Parham held a revival in Houston, Texas, and established a new Bible school there. William J. Seymour (1870-1922), a black Holiness revivalist was a student at Parham's Houston school. Seymour was invited to preach for a call at a Holiness mission in Los Angeles. His text was Acts 2:4. He claimed that anyone who did not speak in tongues was not Spirit-baptized. Outraged church members expelled him from their midst, and he began to hold meetings in homes.

On April 9, 1906, “the fire came down” and many in the meeting, including Seymour himself, received the Pentecostal blessing. The numbers in attendance grew so that Seymour had to rent an old warehouse at 312 Azusa Street. In spite of the ultimate decline of Seymour’s work, the Azusa Street Mission served as the center for an evangelistic impetus which swept across North America and the world.

The worldwide Pentecostal/charismatic movement in 2000, numbered 524,000,000. It is projected that b 2025, this number will rise to 811,500,000; and by 2050, 1,066,300,000 (Source: David A. Barrett, World Christian Encyclopedia, 2001). Judged by numerical growth since its emergence around 1900, Professor Stanley Grenz (1950-2005) concludes that the Pentecostal and Charismatic movement “has become the largest religious development in world history.”

Azusa Street

Doctrinal affirmations of Pentecostal beliefs

Authority (Doctrine of Revelation)

Pentecostals unanimously declare themselves to be Biblicists, with no creed but the Bible. However, Dr. Nils Bloch-Hoell rightly points out, “This Biblicism is not combined with an historical and critical understanding of the Bible, but represents an unreflecting fundamentalism.” Early Pentecostal beliefs came close to bibliolatry. Pentecostals suspected even of the study of the original languages of the Bible in an effort to uncover the best meanings of terms and passages might somehow be detrimental to reverence for the Scriptures.

In practice, many Pentecostals have a very subjective and experiential idea of spiritual authority. “The Lord told me,” is a common revelatory formula. Extreme “Word of Faith” preachers hold their revelations to be on a virtual par with the Scriptures. Prophecy is a highly regarded and common aspect of Pentecostal worship. Even sympathetic scholars rightly caution that it must be subservient to the Bible.

Theology Proper (Doctrine of God)

Pentecostal beliefs affirm the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity; however, shortly after the movement’s inception, it was beset by a controversy over the so-called “Jesus only” teaching. Frank Ewart and G. A. Cook declared that baptism in the Triune Name (according to Matt. 28:19) was invalid. Legitimate baptism was seen to be in the name of Jesus only. Three prominent Pentecostal groups maintain this view today: the United Pentecostal Church (in Canada and the United States), the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World, and The Apostolic Church of Pentecost (Canada).

Scholars generally agree that this is a form of modalism, which rejects the doctrine of the Trinity, insisting that God is not three, but one—that One is Jesus Christ. God the Father and God the Holy Spirit are respectively Old Testament and contemporary alternative forms of Jesus. Those who worship the Trinity are seen as tri-theists.

Soteriology (Doctrine of Salvation)

Pentecostal beliefs affirm the necessity of regeneration as the result of a conversion experience received through the gift of God’s grace in Christ. However, regeneration is only a first step. Sanctification is also vital. For Pentecostals with a Baptist or Reformed orientation, sanctification occurs simultaneously with regeneration. For those with a Holiness background, it must be sought as a second crisis experience.

The ultimate step in Pentecostal beliefs is the baptism in the Holy Spirit. They claim that "traditional" Christians have never moved beyond Easter to Pentecost. They do not have true spiritual power, which Christ has made available through the baptism of the Holy Spirit. The initial evidence of the baptism must be to speak in an ecstatic language. This Spirit baptism is deeply emotional and empowers the one baptized for Christian service of a full and victorious nature.
Lewi Pethrus The baptism existentially substantiates the Bible. Lewi Petrus, pioneer Pentecostal in Sweden, writes of his own Spirit baptism: “This appears to me as the greatest miracle of my life,... that I have found it jut as impossible to doubt, as at times I formerly found it impossible to believe the truths of the Bible.”

Pentecostal beliefs affirm that man was created in God’s image, to walk in holiness and purity before him, and that because of the Fall all humanity is in bondage to Satan. Pentecostal thinking emphasizes the doctrine of the freedom of will . Human beings sin through choice, not necessity. The Fall never deprived them of the freedom to choose between good and evil.

Spiritual Gifts

Pentecostals, properly speaking, are charismatics, that is, they believe that the gifts of 1 Corinthians 12:8-10 are in operation today. The baptism in the Holy Spirit actuates these gifts in the believers. Speaking with tongues occupies the premier position. Classical Pentecostal beliefs insist that it is the necessary evidential sign of Spirit baptism. Interpretation of tongues often accompanies the gift of tongues, but a different person may interpret.

Pentecostal beliefs also affirm the gift of prophecy. Generally, prophetic utterances are for warning, edification, exhortation, or comfort, either to individuals or to groups.

Aimee Semple McPherson

Pentecostal beliefs have traditionally included the practice divine healing. Most Pentecostals are careful to recognize that not all who seek healing receive it. Sickness is seen as one consequence of the Fall of man. The Statement of Fundamental and Essential Truths of the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada affirms:“Deliverance from sickness is provided for in the atonement, and is the privilege of all believers (Isa. 53:4-5; Matt. 8:16-17).”

Closely connected to illness is demonization. Pentecostal beliefs affirm that the power of the resurrected Christ is as effective in the exorcism of demons as in the healing of illness. While the believer may get sick, Pentecostals insist that one can never be possessed by demons, for he or she has been indwelt by the Holy Spirit. Several well-known Pentecostal leaders have been both healers and exorcists, including: Smith Wigglesworth (1859-1947), Aimee Semple McPherson (1890-1944), and William Branham (1909-1965).

Eschatology (Doctrine of Last Things)

Eschatology is more strongly emphasized in Pentecostal beliefs than in most other churches. Most Pentecostals are premillennial, looking for a pretribulational rapture of the church out this world.

The late 1940s saw the emergence of a Restoration movement, holding to a premillennial and posttribulation position. Some claim the tribulation of Daniel occurred in first-century Judaism; thus, there will be no tribulation before the Second Coming. This offers a more optimistic view of the role of the church in the world, which calls the church to expend its energy extending the kingdom rather than preaching a rescue-mission Rapture.

Smith Wigglesworth on "The Bible Evidence of the Baptism of the Spirit”

Smith Wigglesworth

Smith Wigglesworth was born on June 8, 1859 in Menston, Yorkshire. He was confirmed in the Church of England, baptized by immersion in the Baptist Church and had the grounding in Bible teaching among the Plymouth Brethren. His wife, Polly, was Salvation Army preacher. In 1907 Wigglesworth visited Alexander Boddy during a revival at Boddy's Anglican Church in Sunderland. Following prayer with laying-on of hands by Boddy's wife Mary, Wigglesworth experienced speaking in tongues. He later worked closely with the Assemblies of God and became one of the most prolific preachers of Pentecostal beliefs.

In a sermon entitled “The Bible Evidence of the Baptism of the Spirit” (preached on May 27, 1922), Wigglesworth provides a classic articulation of this most cherished of Pentecostal beliefs - the doctrine of “speaking in tongues” as the evidence of the baptism of he Spirit.

"For many years I have thrown out a challenge to any person who can prove to me that he has the baptism without speaking in tongues as the Spirit gives utterance—to prove it by the Word that he has been baptized in the Holy Ghost without the Bible evidence, but so far no one has accepted the challenge."

Wigglesworth presents what he claims are “three clear witness” for this doctrine:

(1) Acts 2:4, which he argues is the original pattern.

(2) Acts 10:46, where he notes that what convinced the prejudiced Jews that the Holy Spirit had come was that “they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God.” Wigglesworth insists that there was no other way for them to know. He concludes that this evidence could not be contradicted, that it is the Bible evidence.

(3) Acts 19:6, in which the Ephesians received the identical Bible evidence as the apostles at the beginning.

Evaluation of Pentecostal beliefs

Many orthodox Christians have viewed the charismatic aspects of Pentecostal beliefs as heretical, especially the tongues and prophecies. Most traditional fundamentalists and some evangelicals have condemned modern glossolalia as “of the devil.” Many “mainline” Christians regard the phenomenon as a psychological aberration. In the last few decades, there are increasing numbers of Christians who affirm that all the spiritual gifts of Pentecost are still functional.

On the other hand, most agree that any features which deviate doctrinally from orthodox Christian standards are to be rejected. When a “word of faith” or a “word from the Lord” is equated with the divine revelation of Scripture, then it is heresy and not truth. Neither can any compelling biblical defense be made for the “Jesus only” unitarianism of some Pentecostal groups.

F F Bosworth The Pentecostal insistence on speaking in tongues as the initial evidence of the baptism (or filling) of the Holy Spirit in problematic. Most scholars agree that the biblical evidence for tongues as the premier gift is simply not there.

F. F. Bosworth, one of the pioneers of the Pentecostal movement and a founder of the Assemblies of God, taught that the gift of tongues was only one of many evidences of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Increasing numbers of Pentecostal clergy today are moving towards Bosworth’s position. While speaking in tongues is often the initial evidence, other gifts may also be evidential instead.

Pentecostal beliefs have brought to the Christian church as a whole a renewed emphasis on, and respect for, the person and work of the Holy Spirit. In the early years, experience at times took precedence over theological foundation. Increasing numbers of Pentecostals are turning to scholarly theological and biblical studies, as they wrestle with the doctrinal bases of Pentecostal beliefs. Leading biblical scholars have emerged from the Pentecostal movement, such as Dr. Derek Prince, Dr. Gordon D. Fee, Dr. Ronald E. Cottle, Dr. Roger Stronstad, Dr. Vinson Synan, and others.

A more complete discussion of Pentecostal beliefs within the broader context of modern theological movements is available in my eBook, Survey of Contemporary Theology, Vol.1.

Return from Pentecostal beliefs to the Gifts of the Holy Spirit home page.

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Here are some books and study materials referred to in our article on Pentecostal Beliefs, which will will enrich your understanding and ability to critically evaluate the Pentecostal doctrine and practices.