Pentecostalism at 100: a major religious force
As the 1906 earthquake shook San Francisco, another quake of sorts was occurring in southern California - tremors that reconfigured the Christian world.Skip to next paragraph
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This week, tens of thousands from around the globe are gathering in Los Angeles to celebrate the centennial of the Azusa Street Revival, an "outpouring of the Holy Spirit" that begat the modern Pentecostal movement.
Over the past century, that movement has sparked a fresh focus on New Testament "gifts of the Spirit" in many denominations. Its influence now embraces one-quarter of all Christians - more than 500 million of them.
"To everyone's surprise, Pentecostalism has grown at a rate no one predicted 50 years ago," says David Daniels, professor at McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago.
Today, a reverse missionary movement has begun - to bring revival to the West. The largest thriving churches in secular Europe, for instance, are pastored by Africans.
"We've not given up on Europe and North America," says the Rev. Roberto Miranda, senior pastor at Lion of Judah Congregation in Boston. "The legacy of Azusa is very much alive, and many believe that a huge revival is imminent."
Looking to the future at the Los Angeles meeting, Pentecostals will hear from US pastors like T.D. Jakes and leaders from Latin America, Africa, and Asia, home to the world's largest church. South Korea's Yoido Full Gospel Church, begun in a tent in a Seoul slum in 1958, boasts more than 700,000 members.
Each of the five evenings, a revival will be hosted by pastors from a different continent. During the day, celebrants will visit sessions on such topics as "The Holy Spirit and Healing," "Prayer Movements and Pentecostal Power," and "Spiritual Renewal in Marriage and Family." The last day will involve a community outreach in the city.
Pentecostals fit under the Evangelical umbrella, but they parted with their cousins in their insistence that first-century "gifts of the Spirit" - healing, prophecy, speaking in tongues - remain alive in Christian practice.
Disparaged in the early decades of the 20th century, their ethos of the Holy Spirit powerfully at work in worship and daily life eventually spawned the Charismatic movement within both Protestant and Roman Catholic faiths, and later, in the 1980s, a neo-Charismatic movement that created new denominations such as the Vineyard churches.
"Pentecostalism is no longer limited to the classic Pentecostal movement," says Dr. Miranda, who leads a Baptist church with a largely Latino congregation. "It's a biblical phenomenon that's gone beyond denominations and is part of the whole body of Christ."
Embracing a Charismatic outlook has "transformed our church from staid and traditional to very open to the moving of the Spirit," Miranda says. That includes "praying for physical healing, spiritual deliverance, allowing space for prophecy and tongues, and being open to changing the order of worship."
For Pentecostals, worship involves the expectation of "God's manifest presence." Praise and a lively, upbeat music characterized their services from the start.
At Lion of Judah church on Easter Sunday, jubilant singing interspersed with prayer filled the first hour of the service. Celebratory music (backed by a band with drums, flute, saxophone, violin, and guitar) gave way to quieter songs, leading up to the sermon on "being a disciple, not just a Christian." Then came the altar call for those seeking prayers, with gentle music continuing in the background.
Ushers with boxes of tissues moved in the aisles, a sign that the praise/prayer segment involved individual as well as collective communion with the divine.