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Pentecostalism at 100: a major religious force

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Music is central to Pentecostal worship and, some say, to its inroads into people's hearts. Some scholars call it one of the two roots of gospel music. Elvis Presley visited the Church of God in Christ (CGC), the largest Pentecostal denomination today. It is largely black, though it has always had white clergy and members.

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"Musicologists note that jazz, blues, and other singers talked of going to black Pentecostal churches to learn new riffs, runs, and chords because the style was open to improvisation," says Dr. Daniels, ordained a CGC pastor. "The liveliness and jubilance was attractive to many people."

Indeed, praise songs and the expressiveness of Pentecostal worship, including the lifting up of hands, has spread through Evangelical churches and nondenominational megachurches.

Yet the focus on "gifts" identified in the book of Acts is also characteristic and has resonated with people across the globe, while putting off some in the West.

The 1906 Azusa revival began with the preaching of William Seymour, a son of former slaves. Seymour had learned about Holy Ghost baptism and speaking in tongues from a minister in Houston. The speaking in tongues that erupted among the small group stirred controversy throughout Los Angeles and began drawing huge interracial crowds. Thousands came to the revival, which went on continuously, every day for three years.

The belief that Jesus' return was imminent spurred a missionary movement. Many departed for other countries to evangelize.

Barry Corey, a dean at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Mass., explains the zeal for spreading the gospel. In the Assemblies of God denomination, for instance, "after one becomes a Christian, there should be a second experience: the baptism of the Holy Spirit," he says. "This empowerment enables the believer to have an extra zeal that is miraculous - it's like a turbocharged faith."

Speaking in tongues isn't essential to be a Christian, but a sign of that second baptism, he adds. Some people may receive the gift of healing or prophecy.

Assemblies of God last year grew more rapidly than any other religious denomination in the US, though only by 1.81 percent.

As Pentecostalism matured, it also became more middle-class. Long known for its anti-intellectualism, recently the movement has developed colleges and universities. Most denominations have no formal education requirements for ordination, Dr. Corey says. "If God has called you, you go and preach."

Some Pentecostal pastors preach a "prosperity gospel" that stirs concern. "It's lending itself to corruption and leaders benefiting excessively," Miranda cautions.

Despite such challenges, this is an invigorating time for the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement. Its dramatic growth in the developing world has come as millions moved from rural life into huge cities. "People living on the edge of life don't have a lot to fall back on, and they need the miraculous provisions of God just to sustain them," Corey says.

To the faithful, this is the work of the Holy Spirit. The movement's global appeal can be seen also in its adaptability and the fertile ground for its teachings.

"Pentecostalism has the ability to translate itself into the language and culture of the people being reached, drawing on local music," says Leslie Callahan, who teaches religious history at the University of Pennsylvania. "Also, most of the rest of the world believes in some sort of metaphysical healing."

While missionaries born out of Azusa (and a similar revival in Wales) planted the seed, indigenous leadership has taken over abroad, and the reverse missionary effort is under way.