Most Pentecostals accept all mainstream Christian beliefs. (The exception is the Oneness movement, which does not accept the Trinity.) Pentecostal churches are highly diverse, which makes it difficult to provide a definitive list of Pentecostal ideas. Nonetheless, this section covers a range of ideas and customs that are common to many Pentecostal churches.
Are Pentecostals fundamentalists?
Pentecostal churches aren't 'fundamentalist', although they're sometimes described as such.
Pentecostals share with Christian fundamentalists their acceptance of the status of the Bible as the inerrant word of God, but they also accept (which fundamentalists do not) the importance of the believer's direct experience of God through the work of the Holy Spirit.
A person is sanctified when their life is dedicated to God and they are separated from their past sinful life. When a person is sanctified, they are born again to Christ through the Holy Spirit and turn away from the bad behaviours and thoughts of their old life.
The word holiness is also used by some churches for this concept. Whatever the word, it is something that is essential to living a Christian life:
Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.
Some Pentecostals teach that believers must experience a once-for-all spiritual event which leads them to "consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus" Romans 6: 10-1. The work of sanctification is carried out by the Holy Spirit.
Other churches teach that believers continue to grow closer to God in a continual process of sanctification, which helps them to live a Christian life.
While some Pentecostals believe that sanctification is a necessary precondition for a person to be baptised in the Spirit, others believe that baptism in the Spirit is available to anyone who sincerely gives their life to Christ.
This distinction may be lost on non-specialists and it may be simpler just to say that Pentecostals believe that human beings must have come to salvation in Christ before they can receive the baptism of the Spirit.
Pentecostal churches follow scripture in practising baptism by immersion. For Pentecostals water baptism is an outward symbol of a conversion that has already occurred. It is the conversion that is essential; the water baptism is an additional element.
Infant baptism is not practised in Pentecostal churches.
Pentecostal churches do not baptise infants. They regard water baptism as an outward expression of an internal work of grace following an individual's choice to follow Christ. Young children are not able to make such a choice because they do not recognise their need for salvation.
Instead, infants in Pentecostal churches are dedicated to God and blessed. This remembers the Bible stories of young children being brought to Jesus to be blessed.
Some Pentecostal churches believe that most children can be ready for water baptism between the ages of seven and ten, and that parents or pastors are able to determine whether a particular child is able to understand the significance of water baptism by discussing it with them.
Baptism in the Holy Spirit
Baptism in the Holy Spirit is the central event of Pentecostalism. The name of the movement commemorates the first baptism in the Spirit, of Jesus' disciples on the day of Pentecost.
Baptism in the Spirit is not a conversion experience; a person must already have been converted before they can receive baptism in the Spirit.
Pentecostals believe that baptism in the Spirit is an essential part of salvation. Traditionally this is a second baptism that follows conventional water baptism, although some passages of scripture reverse this sequence.
Baptism in the Holy Spirit is an experience in which the believer gives control of themselves to the Holy Spirit (although not in a way in which they lose their own identity and autonomy). Through the experience they come to know Christ in a more intimate way and are energised with the power to witness and grow spiritually.
Spirit baptism is believed to be an action of God's grace, but one that is available only to people who put themselves forward to receive it:
Grace makes Spirit Baptism possible but people must seek the experience or it will not happen. (Clark H.Pinnock, Flame of Love: A Theology of the Holy Spirit, 1996)
Analogous with water baptism, a person baptised in the Spirit feels themselves to have been totally immersed in the Holy Spirit. But the analogy fails at that point, because a person who is baptised in the Spirit is also completely filled with the Holy Spirit, in the same way as the disciples of Jesus on the day of Pentecost.
And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly. Acts 4:31
The proof of having been baptised in the Spirit is speaking in tongues. Speaking in tongues is the only consistent event associated with baptism in the Spirit in the various Biblical accounts of the phenomenon.
"All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.Acts 2:4
... the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God. Acts 10:45-46
Being filled with the Holy Spirit
Being filled with the Holy Spirit is not a temporary state of affairs; a person who has been baptised in the Spirit is believed to have the Holy Spirit within them to empower and guide them for the rest of their life.
The Assemblies of God puts it like this:
The Baptism is the entry experience introducing the believer to the beauty and power of the Spirit-filled life.
Assemblies of God
The Holy Spirit will enable the believer to turn away from their old worldly life and live a new Christian life. As St Paul put it:
Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. Ephesians 5:18
But as well as giving a new beginning to the believer, baptism in the Spirit gives them gifts of the Spirit which they are expected to use to bring others to faith, and generally to further Christian work.
Gifts of the Spirit
The gifts of the Spirit are supernatural abilities given to believers by God. These gifts demonstrate the power of God and are used for particular purposes such as healing the sick, and generally helping the believer in their Christian ministry.
St Paul listed the gifts of the spirit as love, prophecy, healing, wise speech, faith, miraculous powers and ecstatic speech.
St Mark offered a different list:
In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well. Mark 16:17-18
Speaking in tongues
Speaking in tongues means speaking miraculously in a language unknown to the speaker, "as the Spirit gives utterance". It first happened to the disciples on the day of Pentecost.
Speaking in tongues can be either evidence of the baptism of the Holy Spirit, or a demonstration of the gift of tongues.
Theological texts also use the word glossolalia to refer to speaking in tongues. This word is sometimes restricted to ecstatic speech in non-existent languages.
Pentecostals believe that God can and does work miracles today.
Pentecostal churches tend to avoid anything that might be seen as sacramentalism.
They do, of course, have rituals and ceremonies like communion and water baptism that other churches treat as sacraments, but Pentecostals refer to these as ceremonies or ordinances. Ordinances, like sacraments are visible representations of invisible realities.
Some Pentecostal churches practise foot-washing as an ordinance of humility in their services. In doing so they follow the instructions of Jesus, who washed the feet of his disciples at the Last Supper.
Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them. John 13:14-17
Prayer cloths are small cloths like handkerchiefs that are used in healing. The practice is based on this passage of scripture:
God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them. Acts 19:11-12
The healer prays over the cloth which is given to the sick person, who may bring it close to the afflicted part of their body.
The cloth is seen as carrying the prayers and the divine healing power to the ill person.
The famous American Evangelist, Oral Roberts, had a "ministry of prayer cloths" in which he sent anointed cloths to anyone who asked for prayer. Each cloth carried this message:
I prayed over this cloth for God to deliver you--use as a point of contact (Acts 19:11-12). Oral Roberts, Tulsa 2, Oklahoma.
It is not necessary to wear the cloth unless you feel you should. It can be used more than once or for more than one person. If you wish to request more, I will be glad to send them to you.
The important thing is to use the cloth as a point of contact for the release of your faith in God, so that when you pray and put the cloth on your body, you will believe the Lord will heal you at that moment. I have prayed over this cloth in the name of Jesus of Nazareth and asked Him to heal you when you apply it to your body. (From a cloth in the ORU Archives, as printed in David E Harrell Jr, Oral Roberts: An American Life, 1985)
Prayer cloths were particularly popular in the first part of the twentieth century, but they are still used today. Prayer cloths are also used by Mormons and Seventh Day Adventists.
Many Pentecostals tithe 10% of their income directly to their church.
Latter rain is a term referring to the new outpouring of the Holy Spirit on today's Pentecostals. The events of Pentecost are known as the former rain.
The idea of latter rain comes from this Old Testament text, which precedes Joel's prophecy that God will pour out his Spirit on all people:
Be glad, O people of Zion,
rejoice in the LORD your God,
for he has given you
the autumn rains in righteousness.
He sends you abundant showers,
both autumn and spring rains, as before. Joel 2:23
The early Pentecostals were keen to connect their own experience of the Spirit with that of the disciples, so they interpreted Peter's quoting of Joel's prophecy in Acts 2: 16-21 as a further prophecy that God would pour out his Spirit again at a later time.
They interpreted the pouring out of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost as the early autumn rain, and the second pouring out of the Spirit, that they were experiencing, as the later spring rains; the Latter Rain.
The idea of latter rain is found throughout Pentecostalism, but the Latter Rain Movement, founded in 1948, teaches that the second coming of Jesus is due to happen soon and that latter rain is evidence for this. They justify this using scripture.
Some Pentecostal churches engage in the dangerous practice of handling poisonous snakes during services; teaching that doing so successfully was a gift of the Spirit. They base this practice on Mark 16:18; "they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all".
Although this practice has been given sensational publicity in the media, it was always extremely rare, restricted to small sects, and largely disapproved of by the larger Pentecostal denominations.
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