What’s Pentecostalism? It’s All About Grace

By Published on May 20, 2018

Sometimes the power of God appears like a burst of electrical current amid revival fires. Other times it’s like the steady rhythms of a divine pacemaker stabilizing the human heart. Either way, it’s grace: God’s power transmitting the abundance of divine life.

Pentecostalism began in a series of revivals at the dawn of the 20th century, the most prominent of which was the Azusa Street Revival in Los Angeles. From its humble beginnings in small houses and store-front missions, the movement has grown into around 300 million. The transmission of its spirituality into Catholicism and other forms of Protestantism has brought the total to over 500 million.

At its core, Pentecostalism is a spirituality. It’s not a confessional tradition like the Lutheran or Reformed churches. This allows the movement to find a home in diverse cultures and denominations.

Pentecostal Spirituality

Central to Pentecostal spirituality is the Pentecostal outpouring of the Spirit in the Book of Acts. The bestowal of divine power and presence is the engine that drives the Church. This gift of grace builds upon the grace of conversion to enable believers and the whole church to continue the mission of Christ in the world.

Pentecostals talk about the charismatic gifts so much because these gifts all flow from the one gift of the Spirit at Pentecost and they fuel the church’s mission in the world. Throughout its history, Pentecostalism has sought to imitate the missionary impulse in Acts.

Even more fundamental is the way Pentecostals fuse power and grace. Grace is the power of God at work to facilitate healing, sanctity, and service. When Pentecostals talk about the apostolic faith, they mean a faith made alive with the same power that raised Jesus from the dead. This power is nothing less than the presence of the Spirit of God, who pours out the love of God that generates the fruit of holiness and consecrates with gifts for service.

This emphasis on abundant life can be taken to extremes as when Prosperity theology minimizes the steadiness of grace and power in human suffering. Prosperity theology prefers talk about victory and deliverance from suffering, forgetting that God’s power is just as real when sustaining persons in the midst of pain and sorrow.

Pentecostals also pray for deliverance from physical infirmity and spiritual infirmity because they see no division between healing the body and the soul. Paul’s declaration that the Gospel is the power of God becomes a continuous prayer to be filled with the fullness of the Spirit. The Christian life is the ongoing flow of the Spirit into the believer, conforming her to the glorified Christ by healing the body, purifying the soul, and showering the whole person with gifts.

Intimacy with God

Since grace is primarily the presence of Christ through the power of the Spirit, Pentecostals talk a lot about relationship and intimacy. One cannot really understand the importance of speaking in tongues apart from Christianity’s relational dimension.

For Pentecostals, tongues are both the sign of the intimate embrace of the Spirit and an ongoing prayer language expressing that intimacy. Because Pentecostals connect tongues to baptism in the Spirit, they see it as a further outworking of the grace that is already present. All believers have the Spirit, but the Spirit comes in many ways to deepen the connection to Christ. Sometimes the Spirit comes to heal, sometimes to sanctify, and sometimes to empower through gifts.

Pentecostal spirituality centers on the Spirit’s outpouring on the Day of Pentecost. This outpouring was upon male and female and young and old. This underscores the Pentecostal insistence that men and women should be ministers of the Gospel and that this Gospel is multicultural. All over the world, you will find women serving as pastors and bishops because ministry is grounded in the gifts that the Spirit bestows.

The contribution of Pentecostal men and women has led to the creation of new forms of music as the single largest impact on forming a global Christian culture. From the 1930s Blues artist Blind Willie Johnson and the cross-over artists Rosetta Tharpe, Elvis Presley, and Andrae Crouch to Bethel Music and Hillsong Music, Pentecostals have facilitated a cultural revolution of new musical forms.

Bringing Unity

There is also a fundamental impulse within Pentecostalism to bring unity to the faith. This impulse was first expressed at the Azusa Street Revival as the Spirit of Pentecost bringing unity among the races.

It can also be found later in the way Pentecostals reached out to other Protestants and Catholics through the global charismatic movement. In 1971 Catholics and Pentecostals began a series of international conversations to learn more about how they might work together for the Kingdom. Of course, Pentecostals have fallen short of unity in their practices, but the impulse remains.

Since its beginnings in the early twentieth century, Pentecostalism has continued to expand by offering to the broader Christian world a spirituality grounded upon Acts 2. Pentecostals will continue to proclaim that Christ’s bestowal of the Spirit at Pentecost was an outpouring of divine power that can change the world. The power of Pentecost was another manifestation of the grace of God that invites persons to experience the abundance of eternal life.

 

Dale M. Coulter is associate professor of historical theology at Regent University School of Divinity. He has served as co-editor of the Society for Pentecostal Studies’s journal PNEUMA. He’s a member of the society’s executive committee. A scholar of medieval spirituality, he serves on the editorial board of a scholarly series called Victorine Texts in Translation. Coulter is also a member of Evangelicals and Catholics Together.

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