I hear Pentecostalism is 100 this year. I’ve been changing a lot since I dropped out of one of the oldest and most respected Pentecostal Bible colleges. That was 1995. A lot has happened to me since then. That school taught me how to study. I’ve learned to think often times in reaction to the classes there. But in all honesty a lot of that learning was really important and good stuff. When I dropped out it was because of my own personal mess and practical direction rather than any serious theological divergence. When my theological interests changed it was years later and in response to American Revivalism as a whole rather than Pentecostalism in particular. Pentecostalism as a historical narrative is fascinating and if anything its’ acceptance and popularity within Evangelicalism has made it less relevant. I have never personally taken variance with the doctrine of tongues being the initial physical evidence of the Spirit.
It was and is one of those things other Evangelicals want to minimize and strip from Pentecostals.
More important to me are the early social separations within Pentecostalism. They were persecuted for their insular emphasis on Spiritual ecstatic experience. Early on this put them in a great place to question the State on matters of the economy and War. Nowadays the health and wealth gospel and radical Nationalism are (to the outside world) the most identifiable traits of Pentecostalism. Pentecostals would like to say its their missionary activity. But wouldn’t all Evangelicals? Maybe that old story from antiquity fits here:
When Dominic was in Rome, seeking authorization for his order from the Pope, the Pope gave him a tour of the treasures of the Vatican, and remarked complacently (referring to Acts 3:6), “Peter can no longer say, ‘Silver and gold have I none.'” Dominic turned and looked straight at the Pope, and said, “No, and neither can he say, ‘Rise and walk.'”
Why is the power missing from Pentecostalism that it had a century ago? Because like every other renewal movement throughout time it has emphasized the marketable passages of Scripture and left out the unmarketable. Oral Roberts (who by the way is not claimed by classic Pentecostals) talks glowingly about how when he started out as an Evangelist they didn’t have a lot. But when God gave him the principle of Seed Faith he told him that he didn’t intend for his children to be poor anymore. This thought, and not the initial physical evidence or Evangelism or Missions has spread like wildfire. It was the magic ingrediant that was always missing. It finally made the Post World War American church a God-blessed, Spirit filled, commercially driven enterprise. It assured its’ consumers God’s favor, continued security, and of course eternal fire insurance. But for me it has become the wound on Pentecostalism that has been its’ undoing. And when that wound spreads to the ends of the earth as I fear it is doing, God alone can heal it.
When I attended Bible college I had a theology professor who honestly listened to the class’s horror stories about churches teaching tongues and emphasizing scary unbiblical practices. He taught us that the Holy Spirit’s work always points to Jesus Christ. Anything that does not point to Christ’s work or even points away is just plain not Pentecostalism. I’ve heard preachers on television teach how to sing in tongues. I’ve seen Benny Hinn “heal” a man, “slay” him in the “Spirit” and then laugh at his terrible tie and tell him the Holy Spirit told him to get a better one. God in his mercy somehow sees fit to let people like this use Him wrongly. My theology professors had much less charity. I had one prof. say “If your theology is wrong you’re going to hell.” I instantly thought of Kenneth Copeland. I’m glad that even good theologians don’t have God’s power to send anyone to the hot place.
Has Pentecostalism done more harm than good in the last century? I’m inclined to say “No.” No more harm than any other movements. But I’ll let God alone be the Judge.