By Pastor Donald P. Shoemaker
Grace Community Church of Seal Beach, CA
A longer version of this essay was printed in the Long Beach CA Press-Telegram, on March 25, 2006. © 2006 Donald P. Shoemaker.
April marks a great milestone in America’s religious heritage as the Pentecostal Movement reaches the 100th anniversary of the revival that launched it. This was the “Azusa Street Revival” in Los Angeles that began in 1906, continued for four years, and attracted inquirers who spread the revival across the country and around the world.
Pentecostalism was not the only revival of its time. The Welsh Revival fanned spiritual flames into some of the early participants at Azusa Street. The Pentecostal revival, however, had unique features of its own. The most obvious, the spiritual renewal it called the “baptism” or “filling of the Holy Spirit,” was accompanied and evidenced by the experience of “speaking in tongues.” This linkage became a key doctrinal and experiential feature of the many denominations, churches, and ministries the revival later produced.
Today 25 percent of those who claim the Christian religion are Pentecostal. There are at least 20 million Pentecostals in the U.S.
I will always be thankful for this movement’s impact on my own spiritual journey. I prayed to receive Jesus while kneeling at the altar on the concrete floor of a Pentecostal church when I was nine years old. My spiritual life was renewed through contact with a Pentecostal family when I was a teen. I joined a Pentecostal denomination. I first saw my wife-to-be in one of its churches and we were married there!
My earliest opportunities for musical ministry and preaching were in Pentecostal churches, including my first sermon when I was eighteen. Though I no longer hold the distinctive Pentecostal doctrines, I still enjoy fellowship with its adherents and occasional ministry opportunities in its warm assemblies.
The movement has made many positive contributions to the broader Evangelical Protestant community to which it clearly belongs. Two of these are especially significant—renewed interest in the ministries of the Holy Spirit and renewal in church worship.
Pentecostals were about the only Christians focusing on the work of the Holy Spirit in the early Twentieth Century. Clearly, other Christians have now awakened to the topic even if differences remain on particular issues like “speaking in tongues.”
Pentecostalism has transformed worship in many American churches. You must understand that the word “worship” is a verb in Pentecostalism! It is an action you enter into, not a meeting you attend and observe. Styles of worship once found almost distinctively in Pentecostalism are now widespread. We have learned that the experience of approaching God is not altogether or primarily cognitive, but also an experience of the emotions and the body. Once seen by many as a “Pentecostal thing,” lifting up hands in worship is now commonplace.
Has the movement had its errors and excesses? Yes. It has created personality cults where the “anointed man of God” is accountable to no one. It has shared with other “Holy Spirit” revivals the risks of minimizing the intellect, creating spiritual pride, and going beyond the Scriptures in its claims and experiences.
That said, we need the Pentecostal Movement and all other movements of God’s Spirit to renew in us the confession “Jesus is Lord” (1 Corinthians 12:3). Without the presence of God’s Spirit, the church loses its uniqueness. The Roman Catholic scholar Luke Timothy Johnson reminds us, “Unless what it says about the Holy Spirit is true, then the church is simply another organization among others, rather than the sacrament of God’s presence in the world.”