Pentecostal Revival

Pentecostal Movement, Christian revivalist movement that originated in the United States in 1906. Spiritual renewal is sought through baptism by the Holy Spirit, as experienced by the apostles on the first Pentecost.
The movement represented a reaction against the rigid theology and formal worship of the traditional churches. Glossolalia, or speaking in tongues, often occurs. Pentecostalists believe in the literal word of the Bible and faith healing. They disapprove of alcohol, tobacco, dancing, the theater, and gambling. It is an intensely missionary faith, and in-person recruitment as well as through television has been very rapid since the 1960s. Worldwide membership is more than 20 million, and it is the world's fastest growing sector of Christianity.
The Pentecostal movement dates from April 4, 1906, when members of the congregation of the Azusa Street Mission in Los Angeles, California, experienced "baptism in the Spirit." Its appeal was to the poor and those alienated by the formalism and modernist theology of established denominations. It combined a highly emotional, informal approach to worship with an ethical emphasis on sobriety and hard work, and it became a way for poor and marginal groups to improve their economic and social status while retaining their religious faith.
The movement grew rapidly in the American South and in impoverished urban areas, meanwhile dividing into dozens of small, contentious sects separated by doctrine and by such practices as faith healing. In the 1950s, faith healing, represented most prominently by Oral Roberts, was at its peak among Pentecostalists. After the 1960s, prosperity through faith became a dominant theme, taken up by Roberts and other television evangelists. But all the Pentecostal sects—ranging from the largest, the Assemblies of God, to small storefront churches—shared an ecstatic tone that continued to have a powerful appeal in the United States, Latin America, and Africa. The movement in Europe, after rapid growth in the early 20th century, had stabilized by mid-century. A similar movement within the Roman Catholic Church, the charismatic movement, won large numbers of followers beginning in the 1960s.

Black and white denominations within the U.S. Pentecostal Church voted in 1994 to create a national multiracial association, ending 88 years of racial segregation.

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Shabuoth or Shavuoth, also Feast of Weeks or Pentecost, Jewish holiday. It is celebrated in the late spring during the Hebrew month of Sivan, seven weeks after Passover. In biblical times the festival was a thanksgiving for the grain harvest. Later tradition associates the holiday with the giving of the Law on Mount Sinai. Shabuoth observances include the reading of the Book of Ruth and the decoration of the home and synagogue with greens. In addition, a dairy meal, symbolic of milk and honey, is eaten.

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Pentecost (Greek pentēcostē, “fiftieth”), in Christianity, a festival observed on the seventh Sunday (50th day) after Easter, commemorating the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles as they celebrated the ancient Jewish feast of Shabuoth (see Acts 2:1-4). In the early church it was a time for administration of the sacrament of baptism, and in the Church of England and other Anglican churches the festival is called Whitsunday in allusion to the white robes traditionally worn by the newly baptized. For a discussion of the Jewish holiday, see Shabuoth.

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Pentecostalism, worldwide charismatic Christian movement that originated in the United States at the beginning of the 20th century. Pentecostalism emphasizes the believer's baptism in the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues as central to the Christian experience.

The theological basis for Pentecostalism is found in the New Testament of the Bible. Chapter 2 of the Book of Acts recounts how Jesus' disciples were "baptized in the Holy Spirit" while meeting for the Jewish observance of Shabuoth (Pentecost in Greek). Glossolalia, or speaking in tongues, was the sign of the baptism. The modern focus on Spirit-baptism has its origins in two main strains of religious experience in America: the Holiness Movement and African American Christianity.

The 19th-century Holiness Movement influenced a major segment of American Protestantism, particularly the Methodists. The origin of the movement was probably the Methodist belief in perfectionism. These Protestants formed the interdenominational National Holiness Association, from 1867 to 1887. They promoted the idea that once a person had accepted Christ, or experienced justification, he or she would move toward a second state of perfect love known as sanctification, which was to be brought on by a spiritual baptism. The Holiness Movement had both black and white adherents, and it exists today in different forms throughout the United States and elsewhere.

By the 1890s the Holiness Movement had fragmented, and new doctrines were spreading. In 1901 Charles Parham, a white Holiness minister, asserted that instead of sanctification being the final result of Spirit-baptism, it was the glossolalia described in Acts 2 that announced the Spirit's descent upon the human body. Rife with millennialism, the announcement was seen as the harbinger of the Second Coming of Christ.

This Pentecostal idea was preached first in the Midwest, but it soon spread to small circles throughout the South. In 1905 an African American Holiness minister named William J. Seymour attended Parham's Bethel Bible School in Houston, Texas, where he was forced to listen from outside the lecture room because of Parham's policy of segregation. Nonetheless, Seymour assimilated Parham's teachings into what was already a strong foundation for the belief in Pentecostalism. In 1906 Seymour went to Los Angeles, California, where one of his flock of Evening Light Saints experienced speaking in tongues. This act sparked the Azusa Street Revival, the seminal movement in what is now termed Pentecostalism.

The second strain that gave rise to Pentecostalism was the nature of Christianity practiced by Africans enslaved in the Americas. Merging the teachings of the Bible with styles of worship that had antecedents in traditional African religions, communities of black people produced a new version of Christianity. This synthesis was immediately recognizable in the Azusa Street Revival. Salient features included holy dancing, singing, a trancelike Spirit possession, a focus on testimony and testifying, and the immediate experience of the divine presence in the worship service.

Seymour's Azusa Street Revival was characterized by the participation of people of every race and ethnicity. Native-born and newly immigrated whites, Mexican Americans, Asian Americans, and African Americans gathered to experience the glossolalia Spirit-baptism that they had not found in the churches of other denominations. However, the idea of interracial worship was repugnant to many whites, including the Ku Klux Klan, who harassed the new Pentecostals. Still, from 1906 until 1914 Seymour's movement attracted Christians from all over the United States who, according to one white parishioner, saw "the color line washed away in the blood [of Jesus Christ]."

Seymour published a journal entitled Apostolic Faith that made explicit his belief that baptism in the Holy Spirit was capable not only of elevating the individual soul, but also of ameliorating the rampant racial hostility of the day. The multitudes in America who adopted Pentecostalism, including a large portion of those involved in the Holiness Movement, were joined by believers around the world who were being evangelized by missionaries. By 1908 Pentecostal missionaries were working in 50 countries.

Seymour had early success at holding together a multiracial ensemble of believers in this new Pentecost experience. However, in 1914 the Assemblies of God was established by whites who desired segregated churches. Around the same time, black Pentecostals removed themselves from bodies such as the Pentecostal Holiness Church. This sparked a pattern of churches separated by race, spawning numerous conferences and associations made up of one racial group or another. Nonetheless, many Pentecostals remained in interracial churches and organizations, including the Church of God in Christ (COGIC) and Pentecostal Assemblies of the World.

Historically, the structure of Pentecostal churches and denominations has differed from that of other Protestant groups in that doctrine and liturgy have not always been determined by a central governing body. Thus, individual pastors have had a significant role in shaping the character of their own congregations. The malleable structure of Pentecostal churches has allowed for significant adaptability across cultures and regions. Since the mid-1970s Pentecostalism has found bases in mainline African American denominations, including several African Methodist Episcopal churches and Baptist churches, where the emotional exuberance of Pentecostal worship had previously been avoided.

Currently, more than 400 million people worldwide—one out of every four Christians—are Pentecostals. According to theologian Harvey Cox, "Pentecostalism is not a denomination or a creed but a movement, a cluster of religious practices and attitudes that transcends ecclesiastical boundaries." Its converts throughout the world are of all races and classes, yet like its original adherents, Pentecostalism finds its greatest reception from women, the poor, and the oppressed groups of the world. Throughout the African diaspora and within Africa itself, millions of people have been drawn to Pentecostalism’s empowering beliefs and practices. In Latin America—Brazil in particular—Pentecostal churches are now competing with the once-dominant Roman Catholic Church for adherents. Beginning in 1910 with Luigi Francescon's Christian Congregations of Brazil, Pentecostalism has emerged as a powerful force in Brazil because of its emphasis on exuberant personal religious experience unmediated by authoritarian leadership. This experience is grounded in the well being of a community of believers whose goal of communion with the Holy Spirit is seen as leading to Christ's Second Coming.

In Africa, Pentecostalism is the fastest spreading religious movement on the continent, largely as a result of the compatibility of traditional indigenous religions and the doctrines of the movement. Christian churches, independent of non-African rule, have arisen throughout Africa. These churches include the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ on Earth, founded by the prophet Simon Kimbangu in 1921, and the Apostolic Church, founded by the prophet John Maranke in 1932. Thousands of new denominations have assimilated indigenous beliefs and practices, including ancestral veneration, spirit possession, and most importantly, healing, into the idiom of Christian baptism and salvation. The remarkable growth of Pentecostalism throughout the world bespeaks a common need for spiritual transcendence and emotional attachment to community.