Pentecostalism, Part I

Article excerpt


By religious standards, Pentecostalism is young. The movement took off a little more than 100 years ago, when an itinerant preacher named William J. Seymour began preaching in a store-front church in a dilapidated neighborhood in Los Angeles. Lack of storied history has not been an impediment to the movement's popularity, however. Christian renewalists, an umbrella term that includes Pentecostals and charismatics, number more than 500 million worldwide and are approximately one quarter of all Christians, according to the World Christian Database.

In the United States, Pentecostals make up 5 percent of the population and charismatics are 18 percent, according to a recent survey of Pentecostal in ten countries, organized by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. In other countries, however, renewalists constitute a considerably larger portion of the population. In Brazil, 49 percent of the population is renewalist, and in Kenya it is 56 percent.

Pentecostalism emphasizes an immediacy of experience that excites its practitioners in ways that more traditional, staid religious services do not. The movement has flourished not in spite of its lack of hierarchical structure, but in many ways because of it. The lack of an international governing authority makes establishing a church relatively easy, leading to a proliferation of smaller congregations, with which approximately 80 percent of Pentecostals are affiliated.

Since the Seymour days, what people have most frequently associated with Pentecostals is the belief that the Holy Spirit descends on average people, manifested by speaking in tongues or divine healing. In addition to the emphasis on the Holy Spirit, Pentecostals also believe in the Rapture that when the end of the world arrives, the faithful will be saved. …