Definition of Pentecostalism
- 1 : of, relating to, or suggesting Pentecost
- 2 : of, relating to, or constituting any of various Christian religious bodies that emphasize individual experiences of grace, spiritual gifts (as glossolalia and faith healing), expressive worship, and evangelism
The definition above is from the current Merriam-Webster dictionary. I tried to use the original 1828 Webster's dictionary, but the word did not exist in 1828, that's because Pentecostalism did not exist in 1828. It has become such a large block of Christianity today it would be difficult to imagine the Christian Church without it.
As I continue my attempt to write from the perspective of addressing a new believer or one beginning to have interest in Christianity, this one will be the most difficult so far. Though it is helpful to know some history concerning the origins of Pentecostalism, that is a subject perhaps for another time. The focus of these few posts is to attempt to put some clarity and understanding for someone new facing all the various claims to truth they will face in Christian circles today. The subjects of the three previous posts find their roots here in this aspect of Christianity.
Our purpose here is not to define what we may or may not find comfortable, but to be able to discern truth from confusion. You are now a Christian, if that is indeed true in your life, then you know you have a desire to please God. It's just something you want to do. But you will be faced with a mirage of people telling you how to do that. Hopefully they will be well grounded people concerned with faithfulness to Scripture. God has given us ministries of various means to help us grow and increase in the knowledge of Him. But there are also many well meaning people, family, and friends who quite possibly could lead us off track and down a wrong path.
Now back to Pentecostalism, how are you to respond when approached by someone in these circles trying to introduce you to what they believe is the true and proper way to worship? Answer: The same way you should respond to anyone from any circle, search the scriptures to see if what they say is so. (Act 17:11 These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.)
You are a Christian; you want to do what a Christian does. How does a Christian know what a Christian does? You want to do what pleases God. How does one know what pleases God? You want to know what God is like. How does one know what God is like? There is only one authoritative source that contains the answers to those questions, so now you understand why it is absolutely necessary for you to study your Bible for yourself.
You will find within its pages, what Christians do, how they live, how they are to think and relate to each other and the world. You will find the nature and attributes of God which is the only revelation of Him we have. You will find what pleases Him and displease Him. You will discover your true nature revealed within it's pages and the work of redemption and our hope displayed in vivid detail.
You are wanting to discover what it means to be a Christian, but Pentecostalism and all it's branches and veins of associations, and they are many, is only a recent phenomena. The church and what it means to be a Christian existed as such for near 1900 years without the beliefs and practices associated with what we have come to know as Pentecostalism.
But how is it that loving and well meaning people may lead us astray? For the sake of clarity I am going to use a single verse of scripture here, but with the understanding you have the responsibility to search out that scripture. Not just to see if it's there, but to study the context of the book and see if I am being faithful to the purpose and intent of the text in which it is placed. In 2Pe 1:20 we read, "Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation." That clarifies for us, that I nor anyone else can take a portion of Scripture and place an interpretation upon it by my own reason or mind without the aid of Scripture itself. But this is what happens in many cases, as selected portions of Scripture are taken as support for a particular doctrine or belief. Because it may appear to be addressing that doctrine, a private interpretation is placed upon it and we accept it as validation and instruction when in reality it is not speaking to that issue at all.
The interpretation will be placed upon this verse of Scripture indicating the work of the Holy Spirit moving on an individual to pray in the Spirit, a term understood as tongues or unknown language. You by someone's instruction will be shown this Scripture, you will read it, and it is possible by their influence along with other Scripture used in the same manner, to be brought to the understanding and acceptance of this practice.
The problem is, that it is a private interpretation, of which we have been instructed by Scripture not to do. It is a private interpretation because no where in the book of Romans is the subject of tongues addressed. The context of this verse is such that it has nothing to do with speaking in tongues. So now you see the importance of not just looking to see if the Scripture is there, but a careful reading of the text must be applied to see if what you have been told is so.
So again you can now see the absolute necessity of Studying the Bible for yourself. Here is a process you can use to help with such questions about certain doctrines (things people believe) and practices of faith (things people do). Today we have many tools available to us which makes this task much easier. One is possibly in the back of your Bible, where you can look up a word or subject and it will direct you to certain portions of Scripture addressing those issues. Just remember to read the entire context and not just those selected portions.
We will use the subject of speaking in tongues as an example, but you can apply this process to any subject in question. The New Testament practice of tongues begins in Acts Chapter 2. The subject is addressed in this Chapter with unparalleled clarity. After the reading of the text you are left with no questions of what it is, what they did, the manner they did it, the reason they did it, and the result of their doing it. Here is a portion of what you will read, I'm using the CEV version for clarity:
Act 2:1 On the day of Pentecost all the Lord's followers were together in one place.
Act 2:2 Suddenly there was a noise from heaven like the sound of a mighty wind! It filled the house where they were meeting.
Act 2:3 Then they saw what looked like fiery tongues moving in all directions, and a tongue came and settled on each person there.
Act 2:4 The Holy Spirit took control of everyone, and they began speaking whatever languages the Spirit let them speak.
Act 2:5 Many religious Jews from every country in the world were living in Jerusalem.
Act 2:6 And when they heard this noise, a crowd gathered. But they were surprised, because they were hearing everything in their own languages.
Act 2:7 They were excited and amazed, and said: Don't all these who are speaking come from Galilee?
Act 2:8 Then why do we hear them speaking our very own languages?
Act 2:9 Some of us are from Parthia, Media, and Elam. Others are from Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus, Asia,
Act 2:10 Phrygia, Pamphylia, Egypt, parts of Libya near Cyrene, Rome,
Act 2:11 Crete, and Arabia. Some of us were born Jews, and others of us have chosen to be Jews. Yet we all hear them using our own languages to tell the wonderful things God has done.
It will be necessary for you to continue to read the entire account throughout the book of Acts, but when you are done, you will be armed with a serious understanding of speaking in tongues. Now, someone tells you this practice is continued today and they practice it frequently in their services. When you attend such services what you discover is interesting, what they are doing is not what you have just read. They will not be speaking in other languages that are known in other parts of the world. They will be speaking in some mystical unknowable pattern of sounds that is unknown to any people group.
But then you remember that thing about private interpretation, so you begin your search in Scripture about this kind of tongue and the practice of it that is different than what you read about in Acts Chapter 2. But you discover that Scripture doesn't mention any other kind of tongue or practice in the Church. This brings us to another important tool that is used in obtaining truth from Scripture. In the places where the Scripture seems vague and obscure, a portion where it seems to lack explanation, you go back to the other Scriptures that do speak clearly on the subject and use Scripture to gain understanding in those portions of Scripture which are less clear.
You see, in the Corinthian scripture addressing tongues, it is not necessary for the text to give specific detail as Acts 2 does. We already know now what they were doing. What Corinthians is addressing is areas where they were doing it wrong and correcting it. But since Scripture gives no instruction concerning a different practice of tongues other than the one given in Acts Chapter 2, to imply another interpretation is again applying private interpretation, which we are told not to do. You may go ahead and accept this practice because of the influence of these particular relationships, but you will do so without the explicit support of Scripture. You will have looked somewhere else for an authoritative voice on faith and practice of the Christian faith.
You also may come to understand that these people, as precious as they are to you, are misguided in their understanding. By using Scripture, great clarity is brought to the subject, it will be obvious that this practice is not continuing in the Church today, for it would be as easy to recognize as it was in Acts Chapter 2. If God decides to once again give this sign or ability to the church, it will be instantly recognized for what it is, because of the clarity in which Scripture speaks of it.
So you see, the truth is not as difficult to know as perhaps you may have thought. It just takes a little effort and time applied to prayer and the study of the Word. My dear Brother or Sister in the Lord, if you have just begun your walk of faith, don't be uncertain. Don't be afraid of the journey, just begin the journey. You will discover so much wonder along the way. That is not to say you will not be hurt by people and things in this world. Disappointments and difficulties are a part of living in a fallen world. Life as a Christian will not be the easiest thing you have ever done, and your faith may cost you much in this life. But it all pales in light of the joy and peace you receive in the form of Grace given to the Saints.
May the Grace of God be upon each of you,