Volume 18 Issue 8
The Pentecostalization of Christianity is the most amazing aspect of modern religion. It is clearly obvious that the influence of the Pentecostal movement is one of the dominant forces in the world today. It has influenced every aspect of Christianity, music, preaching, theology, worship, publishing, media, and even style and politics. The sweeping Pentecostal revival became an undeniably reality after its infant like beginning at the turn of the century. Though it was widely discounted in the beginning and hotly challenged, nothing could stop it.
Churches of all persuasions, including the Catholic Church, were under pressure to respond as the Pentecostals quickly moved from tents to temples, from primitive to cutting edge, from subculture to domination, from unknown to powerbrokers, from unsophisticated rural Bible thumpers to prominent mega church pastors, educators and marketing personalities. The tide swept from a small Los Angeles misson on the now famous Azusa Street to a worldwide missionary force. The churched were being proselytized and the un-churched were flocking in. The world stood in amazement. The phenomenon was sited by Time magazine in their Millennium Edition as among the most significant events in the last one thousand years. Indeed.
The Atlantic Monthly (October, 2002) presented an article about the religious atmosphere of the world by the author of the book, The New Faces of Christianity: Believing the Bible in the Global South, Philip Jenkins. Jenkins points out the impact of the explosive Pentecostal surge, he states:
Though Pentecostalism emerged as a movement only at the start of the twentieth century, chiefly in North America, Pentecostals today are at least 400 million, strong, and heavily concentrated in the global south. By 2040 or so there could be as many as a billion, at which point Pentecostal Christians alone will far outnumber the worlds Buddhists and will enjoy rough numerical parity with the worlds Hindus.
Jenkins makes several insightful observations about why the Pentecostals have enjoyed such profound growth in barely one hundred years: one such comment of note strengthens the point I wish to make in this article:
It was a far-reaching social movement that sought to return to the original sources of Christianity. It challenged the idea that divine authority should be mediated throughout institutions or hierarchies and it denied the value of tradition. Instead it offered new notions of the supremacy of written texts (that is, the books of the Bible).
The True Pentecostal Church is a revolutionary church. It resists the institutionalization of things holy and divine. It offers an alternative to the haughty devaluation of the Bibles authority and the intellectualizing of the churchs message. It refuses the laicization of the churchs pulpits. It refuses to imitate the spirit, method, or style of the world and more importantly any religious contrivances that are developed to deceive or emulate the real power of God.
With Christianity as a whole being challenged by the Pentecostal revolution, in many ways the response has been to pentecostalize.. To slow the losses many have been experiencing, Protestants and Catholics alike have made a grand effort to change and adapt to the Pentecostal challenge. They have contemporized their worship and methods, adopting Pentecostal-style worship. They became less formal, they begin to revolutionize their music, retrain their preachers, began praying for the sick, and so forth. To a large degree, it worked. The crowds came, especially young people, they loved it. The new music became its own commercial sensation, first as crossover-type generic songs with little mention of Jesus. Soon, thousands of so-called Jesus rock concerts dominated the church scene. Then came a variety of entertainment options, Christian comedy, Christian nightclubs, shows, and athletic events. More recently a new worship genre has emerged without melody, release, story, or personalization.
Baptist churches became Bapticostal. Denominational names where dropped from church signs everywhere in favor of New Way Church, or one of a thousand such variations. The old high-doctrine churches became neutral. Inter-denominationalism was the new buzzword. Doctrine was denounced as divisive and harmful. The scriptures were subjected to mindless rewrites and countless street versions, and blue-jean versions. Everything was touted as contemporary this and that.
The result weakened the sacredness of scripture and hastened the deconstruction of the authority of the Gods word. It was not the details that mattered, some said, but the meta-story, until at last postmodern thinking made nothing wrong, nothing right, nothing absolute, and nothing for sure. Pentecostal, Catholic, Baptist, Charismatic, who cares? Love is all that matters. In a final blow to tradition and scripture, many churches dared to declare homosexuality a legitimate lifestyle.
But in the maelstrom some of the Pentecostals fell for a trap and in the ultimate paradox some of the misguided began imitating the imitators.
He surrendered his hold on the holy and it destroyed his confidence and his certitude. Somewhere he became uncomfortable with imperatives such as: one Way, one Name, whereby we MUST be saved, and began imitate the imitators.. He envied their success. He imagined that he was losing ground to charismatic interlopers. He fantasized that one could have Pentecost without separation, without the mystical, inexpliclicable language of Pentecost. He forgot his spiritual pedigree. He lost sight of the commission. He disconnected from his roots, his principles. He began trusting in a hodgepodge of programs; organized but disengaged from doctrine. The revival literally went south: to El Salvador, Brazil, Guatemala, and other areas of the Southern hemisphere.
The problem with imitation is that things get lost in translation. The Pentecostalization of Christianity was not about speaking in tongues. It was not about seeking the baptism of the Holy Ghost as the pioneers had done, simply because they had dared to actually believe the Bible. Rather, it was about trying to recreate the greatest spiritual power in the history of mankind, in a controlled laboratory. It was Pentecost-light. It was and is about attempting to put God in a bottle. It was about creating a packaged commodity, a marketers dream product. It was an attempt in many ways to catch up, to be relative.
Oneness Apostolic Pentecostals should make no effort to emulate the imitators. It was the Pentecostal revival that rocked the boat and tore down the traditions in the first place. We cant go back. We must dream new dreams, see new visions inspired by the Spirit.
but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high