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The Pentecostal Movement

THE MODERN PENTECOSTAL MOVEMENT, although it did have 19th-century antecedents, dates its origin precisely to 7:00 p.m. on New Year's Eve of the year 1900. For some time before that moment a Methodist minister in Topeka, Kansas, Charles Parham, as an answer to the confessed feebleness of his Christian ministry, had been concentratedly studying the New Testament with a group of his students with the aim of discovering the secret of the power of Apostolic Christianity. The students finally deduced that this secret lay in the "speaking in tongues" which, they thought, always accompanied the reception of the Holy Spirit in the Acts of the Apostles. With increasing excitement and tension, Parham and his students resolved to pray until they themselves received the "Baptism of the Holy Spirit" together with speaking in tongues. On December 31, 1900, they prayed from morning to night with no success, until one young girl suggested that one ingredient was missing in this experiment: "laying on of hands." Parham put his hands on the girl's head, and immediately she began to speak in an "unknown tongue." Within three days there were many such "Baptisms," including that of Parham himself and twelve other ministers of various denominations, and all of them were accompanied by speaking in tongues. Soon the revival spread to Texas, and then it had spectacular success at a small Black church in Los Angeles. Since then it has spread throughout the world and claims ten million members.

For half a century the Pentecostal Movement remained sectarian and everywhere it was received with hostility by the established denominations. Then, however, speaking in tongues began gradually to appear in the denominations themselves, although at first it was kept rather quiet, until in 1960 an Episcopalian priest near Los Angeles gave wide publicity to this fact by publicly declaring that he had received the "Baptism of the Holy Spirit" and spoke in tongues. After some initial hostility, the "charismatic revival" gained the official or unofficial approval of all the major denominations and has spread rapidly both in America and abroad. Even the once rigid and exclusivist Roman Catholic Church, once it took up the "charismatic renewal" in earnest in the late 1960's, has been enthusiastically swept up in this movement. In America, the Roman Catholic bishops gave their approval to the movement in l969, and the few thousand Catholics involved in it then have since increased to untold hundreds of thousands, who gather periodically in local and nationwide "charismatic" conferences whose participants are sometimes numbered in the tens of thousands. The Roman Catholic countries of Europe have also become enthusiastically "charismatic," as witnessed by the "charismatic" conference in the Summer, 1978, in Ireland, attended by thousands of Irish priests. Not long before his death Pope Paul VI met with a delegation of "charismatics" and proclaimed that he too is a pentecostal.

What can be the reason for such a spectacular success of a "Christian" revival in a seemingly "post-Christian" world? Doubtless the answer lies in two factors: first, the receptive ground which consists of those millions of "Christians" who feel that their religion is dry, over-rational, merely external, without fervency or power; and second, the evidently powerful "spirit" that lies behind the phenomena, which is capable, under the proper conditions, of producing a multitude and variety of "charismatic" phenomena, including healing, speaking in tongues, interpretation, prophecy-and, underlying all of these, an overwhelming experience which is called the "Baptism of (or in, or with) the Holy Spirit."

But what precisely is this "spirit"? Significantly, this question is seldom if ever even raised by followers of the "charismatic revival"; their own "baptismal" experience is so powerful and has been preceded by such an effective psychological preparation in the form of concentrated prayer and expectation that there is never any doubt in their minds but that they have received the Holy Spirit and that the phenomena they have experienced and seen are exactly those described in the Acts of the Apostles. Too, the psychological atmosphere of the movement is often so one-sided and tense that it is regarded as the very blasphemy against the Holy Spirit to entertain any doubts in this regard. Of the hundreds of books that have already appeared on the movement, only a very few express any even slight doubts as to its spiritual validity.

In order to obtain a better idea of the distinctive characteristics of the "charismatic revival," let us examine some of the testimonies and practices of its participants, always checking them against the standard of Holy Orthodoxy. These testimonies will be taken, with a few exceptions as noted, from the apologetical books and magazines of the movement, written by people who are favorable to it and who obviously publish only that material which seems to support their position. Further, we shall make only minimal use of narrowly Pentecostal sources, confining ourselves chiefly to Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox participants in the contemporary "charismatic revival."

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