One of the fastest-growing segments of the wider evangelical movement has been its Pentecostal branch. Pentecostalism as a movement came into being in the early 1900s in a series of separate revivals. The new movement embodied an evolving body of teachings from itinerant evangelists and Bible teachers such as Charles Parham, William Seymour, and A.J. Tomlinson on the end times, signs and wonders, and the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
While the early revivals associated with these individuals occurred in (respectively) Kansas and Texas, California, and the mountains of Tennessee and North Carolina, the news of a “new” outpouring of God’s Spirit spread quickly in North America and almost simultaneously spread, or was reported, overseas. Most distinctive about this movement was an exuberant worship style and the experience of glossolalia—speaking in tongues—which was seen as a return to the apostolic experience of the Book of Acts and the biblical Baptism of the Holy Spirit.
While the Pentecostal movement was traditionally associated with the impoverished margins of American culture—particularly among Southern whites and blacks—its influence began to spread during the 1950s through the visibility of healing evangelists like Oral Roberts, groups like the Full Gospel Business Men’s Fellowship, and the migration of large numbers of Southern Protestants to the Midwest and Pacific Coast. By the 1960s, pentecostal ideas and style began to surface in the “mainline” Protestant churches, “officially” beginning in 1960 when Dennis Bennett, an Episcopal priest in Van Nuys, California, announced to his congregation that he had spoken in tongues.
This new “Charismatic” movement quickly spread to other mainline denominations and, by the mid-’60s, to the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches. The movement’s visibility and networks were further strengthened by the success of the Pentecostal-leaning “Jesus People” movement among American youth in the late ’60s and ’70s. In the 1980s, a vigorous, independent network of Charismatic churches and organizations (at times described as the “Third Wave”) emerged, including churches such as the Vineyard Christian Fellowship.
In the 1990s a wave of new revivals characterized by such manifestations as “holy laughter” and associated with the Toronto Airport Fellowship and Brownsville Assembly of God in Pensacola, Florida were highly influential within Pentecostal and Charismatic circles.
More recently, the prayer-and-worship emphasis of the International House of Prayer (known popularly as “IHOP”) in the Kansas City, MO area has attracted much attention.
The most significant aspect of the contemporary impact of these movements is the effect they have had overseas, leading many to tag Pentecostalism as “world evangelicalism.” In many parts of the Third World—particularly in sub-Saharan Africa and South America—Pentecostalism has made significant numbers of new converts. In fact, many analysts speculate that within the next decade Pentecostalism may even overtake the Roman Catholic Church as the largest Christian presence in Brazil and much of Spanish-speaking Latin America.
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©Larry Eskridge, 1996. Revised 2001, 2005, 2011, 2012