Religion with a Swing—The Pentecostal Way
“HALLELUJAH!” “Praise the Lord!” “Glory to God!” “Jesus, Jesus!” “Be saved!” “Amen!” Such are the exclamations of fervor heard at a Pentecostal church meeting. Religious excitement runs high. An audience largely of women and children is keyed up to goosepimple pitch by means of stirring musical strains issuing from tambourines, drums or a guitar. Rhythmical handclapping and singing keep pace with the musical instruments as the religious session gains momentum and swing. At the right time a fiery sermon is given with soul-shaking zeal, and the entire audience comes into tune with an overriding spirit of emotion and ecstasy.
Striking emotional and physical manifestations may then occur, including weeping, groaning, falling, jerking and trances. Because of such demonstrations Pentecostals have sometimes been called ‘holy rollers’ and ‘jumpers.’ Their actions, however, are usually involuntary, and are attributed to power descending from on high. On occasions a person may receive an impulse that enables him to speak in an ‘unknown tongue,’ and, at the same time, another may receive a spirit impulse that enables him to interpret the message.
While religious excitement is high, altar calls are often issued, and new persons who feel stirred respond. Those that are ill or infirm may also be urged to come to the altar, and, amidst much imploring from others, healings are attempted. After nearly two hours of religious agitation those in the audience return to their homes. Making allowance for some variations, this sketches briefly the weekly services conducted by the various groups of the Pentecostal movement. Here indeed is a religion with a swing!
Religious revivals around the turn of this century laid the groundwork for the Pentecostal movement. In his book The Assemblies of God: A Popular Survey, J. R. Flower, a prominent Pentecostal official, observed that “it was during the nineteenth century that great revivals were experienced under the leadership of such men as Peter Cartwright,” and that these “were foreshadowings of the rise of the Pentecostal Movement.”
The reports concerning these early frontier revivals were indeed spectacular. William W. Sweet, who consulted many eyewitness reports, described how “the subject would generally ‘with piercing scream, fall like a log on the floor or ground’ and appear as dead, sometimes lying thus for hours at a time. All the eyewitnesses testify to the commonness of this occurrence. The jerking exercise affected persons in different ways. Frequently one of the limbs only would be affected, sometimes the whole body, and often the head alone. . . . ‘Sometimes the head would be twisted right and left, to a half round, with such velocity, that not a feature could be discovered.’” Peter Cartwright, a famous revival preacher of that time, explained that if persons “would not strive against it and pray in good earnest, the jerking would usually abate,” but “the more they resisted the more they jerked.”
In 1906, only a few years after the start of the Pentecostal movement, a group gathered in a private home in Los Angeles to hear W. J. Seymour preach. While he was preaching, “the entire company was knocked from their chairs to the floor.” As a result of this powerful manifestation, people came from all around to investigate. According to The Pentecostal Evangel of April 6, 1946: “They shouted there until the foundation of the house gave way, but no one was hurt.” The gathering then moved to an old frame building at an address famous among Pentecostal people—312 Azusa Street. Here meetings continued day and night for three years. This gave the movement a tremendous impetus.
Manifestations of spirit power caused some attending the meetings to experience physical manipulations of the face and body. Eventually such manifestations became a cause of concern to Seymour. Carl Brumback writes in his book Suddenly from Heaven: “Therefore he urged Parham to come, because ‘hypnotic forces and fleshly contortions as known in the colored Camp Meetings in the South had broken loose in the meeting.’ He urged Mr. Parham to come quickly to help him discern between that which was real and that which was false, and to weed out that which was not of God.”
According to Klaude Kendrick, a leading member of the Assemblies of God, the “Azusa Mission is generally considered the center from which Pentecostal influence spread not only to many places in the United States but also to a number of other nations of the world.”
There were two major courses in which the Pentecostal movement developed. First, there were the Holiness communions that embraced Pentecostal theology as a body after 1906, and, secondly, there were the congregations that were formed by Pentecostal believers who had withdrawn from or had not previously been associated with an established denomination.
As the movement grew many other Pentecostal sects were formed or broke away from larger ones. It would be impossible to identify all the many different Pentecostal denominations. Some of the larger ones are: Assemblies of God, Church of God, Church of God in Christ, United Pentecostal Church, Inc., Pentecostal Church of God in America and International Church of the Foursquare Gospel. In his book Pillars of Pentecost, Charles W. Conn, a historian of the Church of God, notes that “there are today nearly forty Pentecostal bodies in North America alone,” for, as he acknowledges, “the Pentecostal movement has had its share of unfortunate schisms and controversy.”
The following is a list of some of the major Pentecostal bodies with their respective membership as reported in the Yearbook of American Churches 1963:
Assemblies of God 514,317
Church of God in Christ 411,466
United Pentecostal Church, Inc. 175,000
Pentecostal Church of God in America 109,000
Open Bible Standard Church 26,000
International Church of the Foursquare Gospel 84,741
Pentecostal Assemblies of the World 45,000
Church of God (Cleveland, Tenn.) 179,651
Church of God, World Headquarters 71,606
Church of God of Prophecy 35,349
(Original) Church of God 6,000
Pentecostal Holiness Church 55,502
The Pentecostal Free Will Baptist Church, Inc. 7,000
Pentecostal Fire-baptized Holiness Church 573
Apostolic Overcoming Holy Church of God 75,000
Calvary Pentecostal Church 8,000
Elim Missionary Assemblies 4,000
Emmanuel Holiness Church 1,200
International Pentecostal Assemblies 15,000
Pentecostal Church of Christ 1,198
EFFORTS AT UNIFICATION
In recent years efforts have been made to unite the Pentecostals’ divided house. While mergers have been successful in uniting some groups, consolidation of the major denominations appears very unlikely. In recent years, however, Pentecostal bodies have joined ranks within organizations having similar views. For example, many Pentecostal bodies belong to the National Association of Evangelicals, of which Thomas F. Zimmerman, the head of the Assemblies of God, is president.
Perhaps the greatest effort toward unification was the organizing of the World Pentecostal Conference. At its first convention, held in Zurich, Switzerland, in 1947, recommendations were made to form area fellowships. In harmony with these recommendations arrangements were made in 1948 for establishing the Pentecostal Fellowship of North America.
Pentecostals believe that the present Pentecostal movement, which features the speaking in tongues, is in fulfillment of Bible promise. They maintain that the outpouring of the holy spirit at Pentecost and during the first century did not exhaust the miraculous visible manifestations of the spirit. They interpret “the early and latter rain,” mentioned at James 5:7 (AV), as applying to the outpouring of God’s spirit. Believing that the outpouring of God’s spirit in the first century was the “early rain,” they conclude that there must also be a “latter rain.” The Pentecostal movement, they claim, is a result of the outpouring of this “latter rain.”
It is a distinctive teaching of the Pentecostal movement that speaking in tongues always accompanies the baptism with the holy spirit. All persons have this tongues experience as evidence of baptism, Pentecostals say, but not everyone afterward receives the “gift of tongues.” This Pentecostal teaching, however, does not have Scriptural backing.a
The miraculous gifts of God’s spirit, including the gift of tongues, were given as credentials to the infant Christian congregation in the first century. They were, therefore, to cease when the congregation grew to maturity, as the apostle Paul explains: “Love never fails. But whether there are gifts of prophesying, they will be done away with; whether there are tongues, they will cease.”—1 Cor. 13:8.
Because of seeking for something that God is not granting at this time, Pentecostals lend themselves to the deception of Satan and his demons. (1 Tim. 4:1) The shouting, the incoherent mumbling and groaning, and the falling to the floor and jerking around is not an evidence of God’s spirit. Even some prominent Pentecostals agree that some extreme manifestations are not from God. Recall that Seymour wrote Parham to come to Azusa Street to “discern between that which was real and that which was false.”
Are not their physical manipulations similar to what is experienced by African mediums who practice Voodooism? One of those mediums will jiggle and shake in every limb and will remain on her feet in continual motion for hours. Are they not similar to the physical manipulations that came upon a child in Jesus’ day when seized by a spirit power? “So they brought him to him. But at the sight of him the spirit at once threw the child into convulsions, and after falling on the ground he kept rolling about, foaming.”—Mark 9:20.
When God’s holy spirit comes upon a person, as revealed by the Scriptures, it produces intellectual and ennobling results for the person affected instead of fleshly manipulations or contortions that are of no value. There is no record that the disciples at Pentecost did such things when the holy spirit came upon them. Instead, it moved them to give an upbuilding testimony to the truth for the benefit of the many people in Jerusalem who had come from foreign lands. It caused them to speak in the native tongues of these people.—Acts 2:1-4, 14-40.
It is true that in Pentecostal meetings there are many sincere expressions of “Lord, Lord.” But Jesus himself showed that it is not such declarations that are the acid test of true religion, but, rather, the doing of the will of God. “Not everyone saying to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into the kingdom of the heavens, but the one doing the will of my Father who is in the heavens will. Many will say to me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and expel demons in your name, and perform many powerful works in your name?’ And yet then I will confess to them: I never knew you!”—Matt. 7:21-23.
At the beginning of this article a description was given of the type of religious meetings that are held by the Pentecostal movement. In general these are of the nature of an emotional performance rather than an intellectual study to transform the mind and heart. The entire meeting has a rhythmic swing in which the whole audience is made to feel they have a part. To those loaded down with worries and anxieties of life there is a forgetting of their troubles. There is a sharing in a stimulating experience. The insignificant individual is now made to feel important, that God is dealing directly with him personally, thus producing a religious confidence. At these meetings one is not required to think but just to feel. Many assertions are made by speakers without supporting proof. The audience just feels they are right.
Although a person may find emotional satisfaction with the Pentecostal movement and may be impressed with what are regarded as manifestations of God’s spirit, they should remember that Scriptural truth is more important than a religious emotional experience. It is Scriptural truth, not physical signs, that a person should look for in true religion. A person should have faith because of the Scriptural truths he learns, not because of physical signs that he sees. Remember the Scriptural warning: “The lawless one’s presence is according to the operation of Satan with every powerful work and lying signs and portents and with every unrighteous deception for those who are perishing, as a retribution because they did not accept the love of the truth that they might be saved.”—2 Thess. 2:9, 10.
Since manifestations experienced by Pentecostals admittedly contain some that even they believe to be false, as noted in the experience of W. J. Seymour, is there not reason to question all of them? Since demon possession can cause physical manipulations, are we to conclude that some manipulations are caused by holy spirit and others are caused by demon power so that it is necessary to distinguish the true from the false? “A fountain does not cause the sweet and the bitter to bubble out of the same opening, does it?” (Jas. 3:11) A person should soberly and thoughtfully consider the evidence that points to demon influence in the Pentecostal experience. Remember what the inspired apostle Paul wrote to Christians warning them against the “operation of Satan with every powerful work and lying signs and portents” to deceive those who do “not accept the love of the truth.”—2 Thess. 2:9, 10.
a For a detailed discussion of this subject see The Watchtower of June 1, 1963.