Friday, March 28, 2008

The Expansion of Pentecostalism

Pentecostalism Dramatically Changing the U.S. Religious Landscape

According to recent research by the Barna Group, the number of American adults in the general population who are Pentecostal or charismatic has increased from 30% to 36% over the past decade. Today, over 80 million Americans claim this designation.

The Barna studies concluded that an individual is Pentecostal or charismatic if all of the following criteria is met: he/she claims to be a charismatic or Pentecostal Christian, he/she claims having been “filled with the Holy Spirit”, and he/she believes that “the charismatic gifts, such as tongues and healing, are still valid and active today.”

Clearly Pentecostals and other charismatic groups are growing and expanding with respect to the general population. However, the role of Pentecostalism has made even more of a dramatic impact with respect to its influence on the practice of American Christianity.

According the the report:

* 46% of all Protestants are Pentecostal or charismatic
* 49% of all Evangelicals are Pentecostal or charismatic
* 51% of all “born again” Christians are Pentecostal or charismatic
* 23% of all Protestant churches are Pentecostal or charismatic congregations
* 40% of all non-denominational churches are Pentecostal or charismatic
* 36% of all U.S. Catholics are charismatic in belief and practice
* 16% of predominately white congregations in the U.S. are Pentecostal
* 65% of predominately African-American congregations in the U.S. are Pentecostal

According to the conclusions of the research director for these studies studies, Christianity is quickly moving towards a future in which there will be less and less of a distinction between traditional, mainline American Christianity and the growing Pentecostal movement.

Read a report on this Barna Group study HERE.

Commentary and Analysis

The Pentecostal movement is here to stay. It has significantly influenced every American Christian denomination and tradition, including Catholicism. As churches, organizations, and religious movements become more evangelical and more charismatic, the formerly mainstream traditions continue to shrink. Pentecostalism has had a significant global impact as it is reportedly growing faster oversees than in the U.S. It is amazing that 80 million Americans are practicing Pentecostals in some way, shape, or form. Pentecostalism is now a dominant component of the new mainstream.

Among Apostolics, the expansion of Pentecostal characteristics in American religion elicits both positive and negative responses. While there is reason to be optimistic about these trends, there is also cause for concern.

Apostolics should find be reasonably optimistic about the aforementioned trends. If nothing else, they do indicate that the practice of Christianity in the U.S. has become comparatively closer to the practice of the New Testament church as recorded in the pages of scripture. Prior to the 20th century virtually no one worshiped demonstratively, spoke in tongues, believed in divine healing, and so forth. Today, these are all commonplace in Christianity. There is far less debate and divisiveness about these topics within the American Christian community today. The vast majority of denominations and organizations have accepted these practices, at least to some degree.

But the aforementioned trends should also cause Apostolics to pause with concern. While many Christian groups are becoming more Pentecostal in some regards, they are becoming less biblical in others. At the turn of the 20th century the Holiness movement intersected with a great number of churches and denominations. Today, holiness has been all but abandon with Apostolics being among the last to embrace these vital biblical principles. Similarly, the necessity of baptism has experienced mass desertion from Christianity as a whole in contemporary times.

With the continued Apostolic emphasis on holiness and insistence on not only the necessity of baptism, but baptism "in Jesus' name", there is a very clear line of demarcation. This is not a bad thing. The problem, though, lies in the fact that, while there is still a clear line, the line has moved considerably.

In other words, holiness and right doctrine is generally less of a perceived need to charasmatized masses. In previous generations when the differences between Pentecost and the rest of Christendom were glaring, sincere seekers could more easily see the error of their ways when compared with the vain experience of dead religion. This is the danger of half-truths - they deceive.

Perhaps we should find comfort in the history of 20th century Pentecost. Truth was revealed and embraced progressively in most cases. The beautiful truth of speaking in tongues as the evidence of Spirit infilling was followed by embracing an understanding of the finished work of Calvary which was followed by the revelation of pure monotheism accompanied by a revival of Apostolic baptism in Jesus' name.

Sincere seekers who love the Word more than they love religion will continue to be led into all truth. While those who are content with emotional highs and good feelings will be satisfied with seeking spiritual gifts and no more.

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