Friday, August 24, 2007
Props to the Pentecostals
Last year marked the 100th anniversary of the Azusa Street Revivals and the birth of the Pentecostal movement, and, as I was listening to a Speaking of Faith podcast about the history of Pentecostalism, I was struck by how remarkable this branch of the Christian faith really is. Of course there are many areas of disagreement that I have with Pentecostalism - the anti-intellectualism and over-identification of spirituality with emotionalism, the implication in some circles that everyone must speak in tongues to be a good Christian, the susceptibility towards a "Health & Wealth" gospel, and of course the number of "faith healer" charlatans out there that take advantage of Pentecostal belief in the miraculous gifts, to name a few.

On the other hand you have to give Pentecostals their due too. Since their beginnings they have been one of the most racially and socio-economically integrated movements in Christian history. For instance at the time the Los Angeles Herald described the 1906 Azusa Street Revival this way (with some scorn), "All classes of people gathered in the temple last night. There were all ages, sexes, colors, nationalities and previous conditions of servitude." This continues to hold true, though not all Pentecostal denominations are as integrated as they once were. Nevertheless, this is a movement that includes black, white, Latino, Asian, Native American and others. In fact, the one time I visited a Pentecostal church here in the Chicago suburbs that is what I was most struck by - they were a pretty equal mix of black, white and brown in their worship - a pretty good accomplishment for the white bred Wheaton area.

It is also an international movement. Pentecostalism is growing fastest in the global south, in places like Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa. For instance, as Krista Tippett from Speaking of Faith describes the centennial celebration of the Azusa Street Revival:
As the inheritors of that event commemorate it with a parade through the streets of Los Angeles, they also reflect a vast and improbable mix of humanity in one place with one purpose. There is a brass marching band from the Bahamas. There are Native Americans carrying the shofar, the sacred horn of the Hebrew Bible. There are Romanian Pentecostal teenagers from Orange County and a delegation from Uganda and Kenya. A young Christian rock group and a gospel choir perform on flatbed trailers. Azusa Street bikers come with shaved heads and leather jackets and tattoos.

It kind of reminds you of the vision in Revelation of people from every tongue, tribe and nation joined together in unity, praising God together.

Not to mention that Pentecostalism is a religion for people on the margins of society. Historically it has been very egalitarian towards women, pacifistic, concerned with the poor, and focused on personal, individual transformation as well. They aren't just reaching the poor and marginalized, they are the poor and marginalized. This is the religion that resonates most strongly with those on the bottom of society - and for those of us who are concerned about identifying with such people, this is something we should take note of.

At any rate, while it's easy to criticize a movement that often goes to extremes, I think we also have to say that in many ways the Pentecostals are reflecting the diversity and passions of the kingdom of God practically and tangibly in some ways that other segments of the church merely talk about (including much of the emerging church).

posted by Mike Clawson at 1:16 PM | Permalink |


At 8/24/2007 04:44:00 PM, Anonymous Jen

Thanks for your post. I was raised a pentecostal. While I don't attend church any more, my heart is still with them. I appreciate it when people who though they disagree with beliefs or doctrines that certain denominations hold they can still find the good in them. It's nice to see them talked about it a positive manner. God bless


At 8/24/2007 09:29:00 PM, Blogger Makeesha

I was raised "pentecostal" as well and appreciate so much all the points you brought up. I am also extremely thankful for the foundation laid in me that God is present and that the Kingdom is here. I still consider myself pentecostal in many ways although because of the abuses you listed, I hesitate to use that term in mixed company and we don't identify our community as "charismatic" in any way. good post Mike :)


At 8/27/2007 10:45:00 AM, Blogger Derek Berner

My first experience in a pentecostal community was probably the only time I ever cried from a religious experience.

Raised nondenom-evang (too many freaking syllables ;-]) I was instilled with the opinion that pentecostals and charismatics were among the out-there, "fringe" denominations of the non-hereticals and as such not to be taken too seriously.

Of course, I was sort of guilty of taking the same assumption (that intellect and emotion were mutually exclusive) to the opposite extreme. So my first experience with pentecostals at the tender age of 17 on a missions trip to Wales was jarring, disconcerting, and overwhelming. The crucial aspect of that experience though was that these guys seemed to "have it all figured out" in a way that was totally incongruous with my entire religious upbringing, and as such it was the first time that I was forced to confront the notion that it was entirely possible that I didn't have it all figured out.

I too give props to pentecostals for forcing me to confront the emotional aspect of religion and being the first people to (somewhat ironically) help me to realize that just because I was indoctrinated with something from an early age, doesn't make it absolute truth.


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