Pentecostal Religion
in the 20th Century

Why is the rise of Pentecostal religion in the 20th Century one of the most remarkable stories in the modern history of Christianity?

In fact Pentecostal religion built on a nineteenth century American tradition - it was called the Holiness Movement.

It harked back to the revivals of John Wesley’s Methodism. At its heart is the same emotional side—the direct personal relationship with God. Pentecostals have encountered the Holy Spirit, who’s often seemed the Cinderella of the Trinity.

The Bible says 50 days after the death of Jesus the Holy Spirit descended upon the apostles at the Jewish feast of Pentecost—it was a life-changing experience. The disciples are said to have spoken in tongues—an unknown spiritual language which all present could understand. They were filled with power to spread the message of Jesus to the world. Pentecostals believe present-day Christians can also receive these gifts of the Spirit.

Click this link to learn more about the distinctive beliefs and theological contribution of Pentecostals.

Origins of Modern Pentecostal Religion

On the exact dawn of the 20th century—January 1, 1901—a prayer group is gathered in Topeka, Kansas, at Bethel Bible College founded by Charles Fox Parham (1873-1929) in 1900. Suddenly a woman, Agnes Ozman, begins speaking in unknown tongues. This marks the beginning of the modern Pentecostal movement.

Left: Agnes Ozman

Pentecostal religion is defined by a deeply personal connection with God that comes directly through Baptism in the Holy Spirit—the divine presence within. This is typically expressed by the speaking in tongues, which may be a spiritual response to the babble of new information in an ever more complex world. The speaking in tongues give the common, ordinary people who feel excluded from the sophisticated discourse of their time, a voice.

Pentecostals see their movement as reflecting the same kind of spiritual power, worship styles and teachings that were found in the early church. It is an attempt to capture Christianity back from the learned theologians who were making it so complicated that nobody can understand it.

Right: Pentecostals in Lejunior, KY pray for a girl in 1946.

Pentecostal Religion - Korean Style

The Yoido Full Gospel Church in Seoul started with five Koreans meeting in a tent in 1958. Now it has over a million members worldwide. The hymns might be in Korean but the tunes are straight out of the Evangelical revivals.

Today South Korea is a prosperous nation with a thriving economy. It’s hard to imagine that in the late 1940s this was a traumatized and impoverished country reeling from the effects of Japanese occupation. Throughout the occupation churches were prominent in the struggle for freedom. Christianity was identified with national suffering and national pride. Korea produced one of the most dramatic success stories in modern Christian history: Korean Pentecostalism.

But there’s another aspect to the success of Korean Pentecostal religion, which is far more controversial...

...It’s the promise of good fortune and prosperity for believers. It's been christened by those who mistrust it as the “Prosperity Gospel.”

David Yongi Cho - The Father of Korean Pentecostalism

The Yoido style of Pentecostalism has all the glitz of Hollywood. The man behind the phenomenon is Pastor David Yongi Cho (b. 1936), is now retired.

In the 1950’s when he first began spreading the gospel message in Korea to the poor people their suffering was enormous. According to Cho many of them said they didn't need any more religion; if there is such a wonderful heaven why doesn't God give up part of heaven right here and now... the Korean people needed a real God who helps them.

Cho came to believe that in the redemption of Jesus Christ there is a redemption of spirit, life, and the physical body. Jesus Christ, crucified on the cross, redeems us from sin, sickness, and the curse. He calls this the triple gospel of Jesus Christ.

He begins to build hope in the heart of the people, that it is not just a religion beyond death, but a Pentecostal religion is here and now. Does this mean that salvation will always lead to worldly success and wealth? Cho’s answers is that when his parishioners stopped smoking, stopped drinking, stopped gambling, and they begin to save money, they didn't waste their money, naturally by doing that kind of life they become wealthy.

Korean Pentecostals are doing what Christians have always done reflect on a host of voices within the Bible and make their own choices. Is it fair to accuse them of throwing away core values? On the question of wealth they’re entitled to point out that the New Testament is ambiguous. Do you reject riches or work hard and use them well? Jesus and the Apostle Paul give you different answers.

Some have argued that Korean-style Pentecostal religion may well be a pointer to the Christian future.

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