What Brush Should one use?: a brief look at historical and current Pentecostalism

What Brush Should one use?

Aaron T. Hale

Why did the “… fledgling Pentecostals considered the Azusa revival, … to be Pentecostalism’s central point of origin?” (Creech, 1996. p. 405). This is the central question to answer when talking about Pentecostal history. It is an interesting question since there have been charismatic’s in every century. The Quakers, those that John Calvin wrote against in his institutes, the ones Pope Gregory the Great mentioned, and there were certainly at least 120 charismatic’s in the first century who were accused of being drunk while they praised God. So, what sets Pentecostals apart from charismatic groups of history? Since there are so many theologies, many of them errant, that make up Pentecostalism and very little oversight, defining just what Pentecostalism is becomes difficult. If a person visits two Pentecostal churches their experience could be vastly different. This is really the reason Pentecostalism’s central point of origin is Azusa street. It is the only place in time that there is one central Pentecostal theology. Time space and the location in L.A. all converged to create as Cox called it an organism that would produce through “mitosis” and cover the globe (Cox, 2001 p. 55).

The dream was dying in the city of Angels, those that had come there to get rich learned they had been sold the worlds dream, just another lie, so, when William Joseph Seymour arrived in the late 1800’s, the population, especially the poorest, was looking for something new. After being rejected from preaching in other churches Seymour started his own house meetings that quickly grew to more than the house could hold. Moving quickly, Seymour and the other leaders rented on old church on Azusa street that had been used as a warehouse and stable since the last congregation left it. That building would see services night and day for two decades. In the early 1900’s the division started. First Parham and then Durham came with dissenting opinions and theology. Cox makes a good case that Parham’s dissent was driven by racism however, even though Cox tries to make the same case of Durham, the largest Pentecostal denomination in the U.S., the Assemblies of God, might disagree. Those were just the first splits, but with the splits over the next six decades, hundreds of permutations of Pentecostalism became the fastest growing sect in the U.S. As the U.S. expansion grew so did the missionary potential of this new monster. It was the worship and the testimonies that attracted Cox, and millions of others, to Pentecostalism: Hollenweger says (Hollenweger, 1998). Aikman tells of the daring exploits of Pentecostal missionaries  hiding, sometimes in coffins, to be smuggled into China (Aikman, 2003). Today, there is hardly a country in the world that does not have some Pentecostal presence in it. The history of Pentecostalism is not over, the “… battle raging between fundamentalists and experientialists within Pentecostalism” will have to be dealt with either by further splits or by capitulation. Fundamentalist Pentecostals from within predict the likely split of fundamentalist Pentecostals and experientialist Pentecostals to widen until there is a clear distinction between.

South Korea has not escaped the fervor of Pentecostal missions. Cox in 2001 said there were already as many as 5000 Pentecostal churches in South Korea (Cox, 2001). When talking about Pentecostalism in the Asian rim Cox focused his efforts in South Korea. Cox quoted Dr. Chung that said “I no longer believe in an omnipotent God”. This is the issue where what brush should be used needs to be clearly defined.  A fundamentalist Pentecostal would quickly say that rejecting such a doctrine of historical Christianity places the person outside Christianity and labeling someone that is outside Christianity as a Pentecostal is an insult to actual Pentecostals. There is historical precedence for this argument and that really begs the question what brush is being used to paint the South Korean Pentecostal movement if a chief leader of it can hold such an a-historical Christian position and still be painted within Christianity. Cox does this all over the book as he without question accepts Roman Catholic, Pentecostal, Baptist, and others as Christian simply because they seem to identify as that. The narrow gate and other verses of scripture come to mind at this approach, however, it can be a useful approach as long as the reader understands it and the objections that can be raised against it. So, what does broad gate Christianity look like in Korea? Ma, a South Korean Pentecostal, in 2013 wrote “we Pentecostals were taught that only the small group of saints who were “baptized in the Holy Spirit” were the true saints of the latter days” (Ma, 2013). This is a very traditional Pentecostal doctrine, alive and well in South Korea in 2013. Yet, the picture Cox paints of Pentecostalism in that country is far more liberal and even dangerously pagan. This is due to the mitosis that Cox used to describe the Pentecostal system. Just as in the U.S. in South Korea there are obviously many permutations of Pentecostalism. The two primary results of Pentecostalism in South Korea, according to Cox, are that Pentecostal missionaries stream from that country to all over the world and that, because of the larger influence of Christianity, South Korea had become a capitalistic economy (Cox, 2001). The notable feature of Pentecostalism, Cox pointed out, is its ability to adapt to the culture it is in (Cox, 2001). It has done that all over the world, sometimes maybe a little too well.

Pentecostalism is not done, unless there is a change it will be the most dominant version of Christianity in the world. This is because, as Cox said, Pentecostals are driven to proclaim the good news. In this noetically affected state there has never been one Christian that got all doctrine right. Even Paul commiserated his inability to get it all right. The line is the gospel. There are definitely problems with Pentecostal theology, and even a problem identifying just what is Pentecostal theology is. Ten different churches might each answer that question differently. Is Christ properly proclaimed? That is the question, and in reality, that is the brush that really matters.

 

References

Aikman, D. (2003). Jesus in Beijing: How Christianity is transforming China and changing the global balance of power. Washington, DC: Regnery Publishing, Inc.

Creech, J. (1996). Visions of Glory: The Place of the Azusa Street Revival in Pentecostal History. Church History, (3). 405

Cox, H. (2001). Fire from heaven: The rise of Pentecostal spirituality and the reshaping of religion in the twenty-first century. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press.

Hollenweger, W. J. (1998). Fire from Heaven: A Testimony by Harvey Cox. Pneuma, 20(2), 197-204.

Ma, W. (2013). Life, justice, and peace in the spirit: a Korean Pentecostal reflection. The Ecumenical Review, 65(2), 225-243. doi:10.1111/erev.12038

 

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