A religious movement that has spawned a
denominational family within the doctrinally conservative ("evangelical") wing
of Protestant Christianity. The movement takes its name from the experience of
disciples on the day of Pentecost, described in the New Testament book of the Acts of the
Apostles (2:4), when "they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in
other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance."
Pentecostalism has grown dramatically worldwide throughout
the twentieth century, making it arguably the most important recent development in
Christianity. Although there are many readily identifiable pentecostal denominations
the Assemblies of God being the largestprecise figures on the size of the
pentecostal movement are more difficult to obtain both because smaller, independent
pentecostal churches tend to elude religious censuses and because it is impossible to
quantify the influence of pentecostalism in non-pentecostal denominations. Estimates,
however, range from 10 million to 29 million followers in the United States alone. What
most clearly distinguishes pentecostalism and identifies it as a coherent religious family
is the belief in and experience of "baptism of the Spirit" as evidenced by
speaking in tongues (glossolalia) .
Pentecostalism germinated from the fertile soil of
nineteenth-century American revivalism, specifically the Holiness movement in Methodism.
The Holiness movement was actually brought into Methodism through the influence of other
"Methodized" Protestantssuch as Oberlin evangelist Charles Finneywho
had discovered John Wesley's writings on Christian perfection. In addition to the emphasis
on perfectionism, Holiness theology professed the doctrine of entire sanctification,
whereby a dramatic "second blessing" (sanctification) ratifies a person's
holiness subsequent to the born-again experience of conversion (justification).
Increasingly, that event was described in the Holiness movement as "baptism of the
Holy Spirit," and soon speaking in tongues was seen as an outward sign of that
baptism, and hence of sanctification. Benjamin Hardin Irwin's Fire-Baptized Holiness
Association further set the stage for pentecostalism by maintaining that "baptism
with the Holy Ghost and fire" was a "third blessing." These principles and
practices were directly carried over into pentecostalism. The pentecostal movement's novel
contribution to Holiness revivalism was rendering glossolalia normative , an essential
sign of "Spirit baptism." Although not all who have experienced baptism of the
Spirit also claim to have spoken in tongues, and vice versa, the percentages of
Pentecostalists who have experienced both is very high (67% in Poloma's  study of
the Assemblies of God).
The precise origin of pentecostalism is traced to Charles
Parham and his Bethel Bible College in Topeka, Kansas. In 1901, after being instructed by
Parham to read the biblical book of Acts, student Agnes Ozman received baptism of the
Spirit and spoke in tongues. When others at the school had a similar experience, Parham
concluded that glossolalia was evidence of Spirit baptism. He then embarked on a series of
revival meetings in Missouri and Kansas, establishing loosely organized "Apostolic
Faith Missions," although his most important encounter was in Houston, where he
evangelized an African American Holiness preacher, William Seymour. Seymour took Parham's
campaign to Los Angeles, where his Azusa Street Mission became the center of
pentecostalism in the United States and the springboard for its worldwide expansion.
From its inception, pentecostalism has included a diverse
assortment of churches and associations. In an effort to develop some measure of doctrinal
uniformity and cooperation between various independent pentecostal churches, a
"General Convention of Pentecostal Saints and Churches of God in Christ" was
called for April 1914 in Hot Springs, Arkansas. A creed was issued, and an organization
called the Assemblies of God was formed, along with a general council to oversee it. This
moment is historically significant because it inaugurated pentecostal denominationalism.
Pentecostalism, true to its Protestant heritage, has
coupled growth with splintering. Conservative estimates suggest there are some 300
pentecostal denominations and organizations in the United States. While pentecostalists
were officially opposed to "dogma," with its stultifying Catholic and mainline
Protestant overtones, issues of correct interpretation of the Bible have been the source
of considerable dissension within the movement. Although all adhere to a biblically
conservative theology, two major disputes have divided pentecostalists.
One of the main cleavages in the pentecostal movement was
between those who adhered to a Wesleyan Holiness view of the doctrine of sanctification
and those who adopted a non-Wesleyan ("Reformed") position. Early
pentecostalists working within the Holiness tradition as modified in the Fire-Baptized
Holiness Movement saw baptism of the Spirit as the third step in the Wesleyan formula of
justificationsanctification. Reformed Pentecostalists, in contrast, came to see
salvation as sufficient, as "a finished work of grace" that frees the believer
from the guilt of sin. Sanctification, which flows from conversion, is an ongoing
process that frees the believer from the power of sin. Spirit baptism, in this
view, is not dependent upon a "second blessing" assuring sanctification.
The second major cleavage within pentecostalism
materialized at a 1913 camp meeting during which a "Jesus only" theology was
proposed. This Jesus Unitarian doctrine held that there is only one person in the Godhead,
and to baptize in the name of the "Father, Son and Holy Ghost" is simply to
recognize the three titles of the one God: Jesus. Dispute over this "Oneness"
doctrine gave rise to an enduring division in the pentecostal movement and was a major
reason that a Statement of Fundamental Truths was issued by the Assemblies of God in 1916
definitively endorsing Trinitarianism.
Three major groupings of pentecostal denominations are
formed by these divisions: (1) Holiness Pentecostals, (2) Reformed or "Finished
Work" Pentecostals, and (3) "Oneness" Pentecostals. Holiness
Pentecostals include the largest historically African American Pentecostal
denomination, the Church of God in Christ (COGIC in Memphis, Tennessee) as well as
historically white denominations such as the Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee), the
Church of God in Christ-International, and the Pentecostal Holiness Church. Reformed
Pentecostals include the Assemblies of God (the largest historically white Pentecostal
denomination), International Church of the Foursquare Gospel, and Pentecostal Church of
God. Oneness Pentecostals include two major denominationsthe Pentecostal
Assemblies of the World (African American) and the United Pentecostal Church (white)which
formed from a racial split within the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World.
Old and New
The rapid growth of Holiness and Pentecostal churches in
the most advanced industrial society in the world poses an empirical challenge to
mechanistic theories of "secularization," particularly those informed by Max
Weber's idea that societal rationalization would lead to the "disenchantment" of
the world. Rodney Stark and his colleagues have offered an alternative "economic
approach" to religion, which accounts for the persistence of religion in the modern
world by maintaining that secularization is a self-limiting process. As mainline churches
become worldly and mundane (secularized), more vital sectarian movements arise that seek
to restore the "potency" of religious traditions. These less worldly sects are
better able to compete in the religious economy and therefore experience substantial
In Finke and Stark's view, the emergence of the
Holiness-Pentecostal churches from Methodism and their subsequent growth is paradigmatic
of the history of The Churching of America (Rutgers University Press 1992). While
the sectarian Church of the Nazarene and Assemblies of God gained 42% and 371%,
respectively, in market share between 1940 and 1985, the United Methodist Church lost
48% over the same period (p. 248). In the nineteenth century, when Methodism grew in
numbers to be the largest church in America, its laity became more economically prosperous
and its clergy more educated and professionalized. As a consequence, its focus on outward
holiness was compromised, and in accommodating to the world, its sectlike vigor was
transformed into churchlike tedium. The emergence of the Holiness revivals in the
nineteenth century was a reaction to the increasing "worldliness" of this and
other mainstream Protestant denominations.
Although the Holiness movement began as a revitalization
movement within Methodism, by the late nineteenth century, ecclesiastical officials
had shown themselves to be resistant to change, and the Church of God (Anderson, Indiana)
became the first independent Holiness church. The Holiness movement has followed the
American pattern of denominationalism since, producing churches such as the Salvation
Army, Wesleyan Methodists, and Free Methodists. The largest Holiness denomination, the
Church of the Nazarene, has seen dramatic growth since its official founding in 1908 as
the result of a series of mergers between several small, independent Holiness
congregations. In 1906, there were 6,657 Nazarenes, or 0.08 members per 1,000 population;
by 1986, there were 530,912, or 2.20 members per 1,000, an increase in market share of
2,750% (p. 165).
As remarkable as the case of the Church of the Nazarene is,
its growth has been more modest than that of the Assemblies of God, which is not only the
largest pentecostal denomination but is the twelfth largest of all Protestant
denominations in the United States today.
In the past four-score years, its market share has grown
even more significantly.
Growth and Institutional Dilemmas
The remarkable growth experienced by denominations such as
the Assemblies of God raises certain organizational challengesnotably, how to
balance the need for institutionalization with the desire to keep spontaneous charismata
at the center of religious practice. Poloma (1989) analyzes this situation in terms of
O'Dea's five "dilemmas of institutionalization," and finds that the Assemblies
of God has managed to keep these dilemmas alive, not allowing institutionalization to
routinize completely the church's spirit of charisma. It has done this in part by
combining congregational and presbyterian governance and thereby facilitating
heterogeneity (e.g., in staffing, in ritual style) within the denomination. The dilemmas
of institutionalization, however, are ever present, and the fallen teleministries of Jim
Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart exemplify the powerful forces of accommodation that bear on
successful churches. Indeed, as the Assemblies of God becomes more suburban, more
educated, and more middle class, the specter is raised of a schism within the church as it
becomes more worldly, more compromisedin a word, more secularized.
The Social Sources of
Sectarian religious movements have long been seen as the
religion of "the disinherited." In his historical study, Anderson (1979:240)
locates pentecostalism among those on the margins of the new, urban, bureaucratic
industrial social orderthe working poor, blacks, immigrants, marginal farmers. But
even if social dislocation and economic deprivation create a pool of candidates,
they cannot explain who among the disinherited actually become involved in sects.
Anderson concludes that the social sources of Pentecostal membership were the combination
of deprivation and coming from a revivalistic Protestant or superstitious Catholic
As pentecostal denominations have grown, they resemble less
their disinherited forebears. Poloma (1989) compared a sample of 1,275 Assemblies of God
members with a national sample of Protestants and found that members had slightly higher
than average earnings and were more likely to be college graduates. More generally,
however, although the gap between upstart sects and mainline Protestants in the United
States has narrowed considerably over the course of the twentieth century, members of
Holiness-Pentecostal churches are still below national averages in education, income, and
occupational prestige (Roof and McKinney 1987).
Moral, Social, and Political
When scholars classify religious groups according to
ideology, pentecostal denominations are routinely counted among the
"conservative" churches. This conservatism is not only theological, it also can
be seen in the moral attitudes, social views, and political beliefs of pentecostals.
Compared with Americans generally, pentecostals are very traditional on moral issues such
as abortion, sex education in schools, premarital and extramarital sex, and homosexuality.
On social issues, pentecostals routinely take conservative positions on the role of women
in society, the death penalty, and corporal punishment. They are far less favorable than
the average American to the granting of atheists, communists, and homosexuals such civil
liberties as the right to speak in public, and are also less supportive of racial justice
(e.g., laws against miscegenation) than Americans generally (Roof and McKinney 1987). One
exception to this consistently conservative outlook is that Pentecostals are surprisingly
liberal on the economic issue of welfare spending, probably a reflection of their class
In general, Pentecostal churches tend to uphold strict
codes of behavior, proscribing social dancing, gambling, and the use of tobacco or
alcohol, and prescribing self-control and individual achievement. According to Johnson
(1961), this orientation is a variant of what Weber has called the ethic of inner-worldly
asceticism, a latent function of which is the socialization of adherents in the dominant
values of American society.
As theologically conservative Christians, pentecostals are
typically grouped with fundamentalists and other evangelicals in the "New Christian
Right" (NCR), which gained considerable notoriety for its political activities in the
1980s. More subtle analyses of NCR politics, however, have revealed diverse social and
political attitudes. In God's Warriors (Johns Hopkins University Press 1992), Clyde
Wilcox shows that a major divide in the 1988 Republican presidential primaries was between
pentecostals, who gave the candidacy of charismatic Baptist televangelist Pat Robertson
the strongest and most consistent support, and fundamentalists, who followed Jerry Falwell
and the Moral Majority in supporting George Bush.
R. M. Anderson, Vision of the
Disinherited (New York: Oxford University Press, 1979)
B. Johnson, "Do Holiness Sects
Socialize in Dominant Values?" Social Forces 40(1961):309-316
M. M. Poloma, The Assemblies of
God at the Crossroads (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1989)
W. C. Roof and W. McKinney, American
Mainline Religion (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1987).