This paper attempts to examine the main differences between mainstream fundamentalist and/or evangelical Christianity and the Pentecostal movement. As a rule, many believe that Pentecostals are identical to fundamentalist and evangelical Christians and only possess different techniques of presenting the gospel. However, this is far from the truth. Some Pentecostal movements cannot be included alongside mainstream Christian groups, that is the Baptists, Anglicans, Church of England and so forth.
I am sure such an assertion may be seen by some as somewhat controversial and debatable. Many are divided over this issue. Whilst some assert that Pentecostals are like any other Christian group, many such as Robert Bowman and John Weldon contend that some Pentecostal sects can be said to exist alongside organizations such as the Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses as heretical organizations. For example, the United Pentecostal Church International and/or "Jesus Only" or "Oneness" Pentecostals, the Latter-Rain Movement and Snake Handling Pentecostal sects. Again, many are divided about these issues.
By the age of 17, I had become more attracted to the Pentecostal movement for various reasons. The people seemed more inclusive, warm, open and friendly than at other churches. I'd always thought the members of other churches were rather indifferent, unfriendly and exclusive by comparison.
Even though I wanted to get closer to Christ, my focus was not entirely on Christ.
In the Pentecostal church the lively atmosphere also fascinated me. The music the singing, the clapping of hands, dancing and so forth. Even the minister was more appealing. Often he talked of Christ excitedly, arms swaying in the air, with a vibrant voice exhorting the audience to contribute by saying: "Hallelujahs" and "Praise God Almighty"!
My friends and leaders would tell me that the Pentecostal church would be more beneficial for me. They constantly emphasized that other churches were "lukewarm" and that God would "spit the lukewarm out." On the other hand, they considered their church as somewhat closer to God because they were hot-hearted towards God. They'd tell me, "your family doesn't really know the lord."
During praise and worship people would "speak in tongues," often all at once. Then the minister would at times share a "prophetic word," whereby he pointed someone out of the audience and rebuked them for their sins. I was always in fear that one day the minister would point me out. If the minister were not rebuking someone for a sin of some sort, he would predict how a person was suffering and verbalize their feelings in front of everyone with emotive words and metaphors and tell them what they should do. Even when people would start weeping and violently shaking. But I would just brush my doubts away and instead, became swept up in the emotion and hype. I now realize that I lacked a basis of knowing who Christ really was.
Within Pentecostal church services the minister often encourages the convert to seek spiritual gifts that are said to intensify religious experiences. Some of the favored Pentecostal spiritual gifts, which are not necessarily prominent within mainstream Christian churches, include "baptism in the Holy Spirit" (i.e. "speaking of tongues"). "Speaking of tongues" is when a person speaks whatever comes to mind. The Pentecostal believes that what is spoken, which is a language only recognized by God (i.e. glossalalia) or, a foreign language, which is not known or understood by the speaker. But this can be interpreted by someone else and is used to edify the church (i.e. xenoglossia). Of the two, glossalalia is more common. It seems xenoglossia is quite rare nowadays. Other spiritual gifts include the ability to interpret these tongues, the gift of prophecy, discerning between godly and demonic spirits and the ability to heal. Pentecostal services call for the converts full involvement and attention in the church.
According to Poloma, the church 'service is often designed to make an emotional impact and produce an emotional response.' (Poloma: 1989:188-9). For example, the ministers' talk in emotive tones, varying his pitch from high to low. Furthermore, musical instruments such as guitars, pianos, drums and saxophones seem to continually play an emotive tune over and over again. Such techniques seem hypnotic. This can be seen as a subtle form of manipulation. If one allows himself or herself to be carried away, feelings may reach an emotional high and even culminate in an altered state of consciousness.
Feelings and emotions play a large role in the Pentecostal religious experience. "In many Pentecostal churches today, once the drum stops beating and the organ stops throbbing and the volume of the service dies down, the emotionally motivated Christian goes into an emotional low" (Poloma: 1989:189). Such techniques seem to offer the convert a temporary form of escapism from the big, bad world and often prepare the believer for his or her next hectic week in the world. The techniques used are also very attractive and appealing. This is because the more appeal a service has, the more likely the faithful will return, participate and contribute their time and money.
From my own experience, it seemed the Pentecostal Church services were warm, vibrant and inclusive for newcomers. Such services aim to produce "good" feelings and a sense of belonging. New or potential converts are never excluded and old believers are always told to look after someone new at the service. Cult experts have called such a technique "love-bombing" (i.e. seemingly unconditional love). If the convert conforms to the community, the love bombing continues. However, if the convert chooses to disregard Church rules and those in authority, regular members are exhorted to persist encouraging the potential convert, and, if the potential convert breaches church regulations the love is withdrawn.
"If anyone speaks in a tongue, two- or at the most three should speak one at the time, and someone must interpret. If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and God." (1 Corinthians 14:27-8).
Hence tongues must be used in a biblical manner. From these passages it is obvious that it must be used in an orderly way. Furthermore, the bible also states, "In the church I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue." (1 Corinthians 14:19).
Also it seems that the gift of speaking in tongues is not necessarily for everyone. The bible states that there are many differing spiritual gifts each coming from the same spirit. (1 Corinthians 12:4). Whilst some speak in tongues, not everyone speaks in tongues just like whilst some are great helpers there are also others who are not so great at helping and may have strengths elsewhere. (1 Corinthians 12 8-11). On the other hand, Pentecostals state that all should speak in tongues. However, in many of the so-called "baptisms in the spirit" alter calls I've observed, some people just cannot bring themselves to speak in tongues and hence cannot bring themselves to be "baptized in the spirit." Also, since tongues are considered a "spiritual gift," many of the more extreme Pentecostals may look down upon those who do not speak tongues. Those who do not speak in tongues may not be considered "spirit filled." Such an assertion and attitude would be considered unbiblical by most Christians.
Unlike many Charismatic Christians and Pentecostals, mainstream Christians argue that once you accept Christ into your life you have the spirit. In such Mainline Churches the primary emphasis is on Christ rather than spiritual gifts. Furthermore, if someone has the gift of tongues it is not seen as more significant than other spiritual gifts such as encouragement, administration, mercy etc. On the other hand, amongst some charismatic Christian groups and Pentecostals the focus is often too much upon the so-called "spiritual gifts," which are seen as something meant for everyone to edify the church. Obviously though there are problems speaking in tongues at a church if no one is there to interpret what's been said.
Throughout history such phenomena has been ambiguous and paradoxical. For example, in the past religious sects such as the Mormons (Latter-day Saints) and the Quakers have claimed the gift of tongues. Since not a lot is known about xenoglossia and glossalalia it is important to approach this issue with caution. Since there is also a lack of objective proof regarding the origin and/or nature of glossalalia and xenoglossia it is obvious that people base such an experience largely upon faith. This attitude can be potentially dangerous. It may be unsafe to be ruled by subjective feelings alone without some objective balance.
Pentecostals often place their emphasis on feelings and emotions and encourage, what can be seen as unbalanced thinking. For example, many claim to speak in tongues and believe they are speaking in another language, though this cannot be objectively observed. 'It is significant that though linguistic experts have studied hundreds of hours of tongues recorded on tape, they have never been able to identify any of them as a known human language.' (Culpepper: 1977:101-2). There are also arguments that there is no proper syntax to study and that only a few vowels and consonants are made. Vowels would include A-E-I-O-U; the consonants include all the other letters in the alphabet. Perhaps Pentecostals might argue this is because the languages spoken through tongues are "spiritual" languages, which are therefore unknown to humanity and only known by God. But if this is the case, subsequently tongues cannot be interpreted within the church and perhaps it would be preferable if people practiced this and prayed at home, allowing for a more private setting between a believer and God. This is reminiscent of the scripture; "He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself." (1 Corinthians 14:4).
Another substantial problem with the practice of tongues is that "Many Charismatics acknowledge that often when Christians begin speaking in tongues they have doubts as to whether the experience is authentic, whether the Spirit is giving the words, or whether they are just making them up.' (Culpepper: 1977:91). Since the nature of this experience is so ambiguous and it causes substantial doubts perhaps Christians ought to approach this practice with more caution. Again, this does not mean Christians should reject tongues altogether. Because in the bible it states:
'Do not forbid speaking in tongues. But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.' (1 Corinthians: 14:39-40).
Hence, the issue remains sensitive and can be approached from a biblical perspective, with caution and common sense. Certainly though, if someone does not speak in tongues, this does not mean they are any less of a Christian. An evident attitude though amongst many Pentecostal and Charismatic churches is, "I can speak tongues and this means I'm superior and more spiritual than other Christians who don't." OR, "Since I speak tongues and that person doesn't, I'm a spirit-filled person Christian and that person isn't. And they need to learn from me."
This attitude breeds spiritual elitism, a superior attitude and does damage to some individuals, while building up the egos of others, but does little to edify the whole church.
The bible states:
"But when you pray, go to your room, close the door and pray with your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. 'This, then is how you should pray: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.'" (Matthew 6:613)
The bible encourages believers to pray in a way, which is straightforward, thankful, honest and/or to ask for help. Since God already knows what we need before we ask, clearly there is no need to use the same repetitive phrases over and over again. After all, the Lord knows if we pray with honesty. Therefore there is no use in emotional hype when praying. The problem with trying to be "hot-hearted" towards God in prayer is the danger of building up a façade. That is, trying too hard to make God, and others see how hot-hearted we are about God because of how we pray. This is not only unbiblical; it also obscures the reason for prayer. For example: Generally, if you approach a very close friend because you need their help, you would explain the situation in a straightforward manner, ask directly for help and then thank them. It would be unnatural to purposely become over emotional and/or continually repeat a contrived refrain such as:
"Thank you for all you've done for me in our friendship. You're a great friend, just so cool. For you've always been here for me. I'm in trouble and need something. Help me Joe. Help me! You're my best and most coolest friend. Thankyou Joe, Thank you Joe, Thank you soooo much for helping me. I love you. Thank you Joe. I love you. You're a great friend!"
Actually a friend might find such excessive emotion somewhat strange and suspect that there was some amount of insincerity or phoniness involved. This previous refrain would be comparable to a Charismatic Christian or Pentecostal in prayer saying, "Oh Lord God almighty I feel your presence. I worship you Lord with all my heart and soul. I praise you-- for you are the Alpha and Omega the beginning and end. Hallelujah! Amen! Praise God Almighty! Forgive me for I have sinned. Separate my sins as far as East is to West. Oh Lord Hallelujah. Amen. You are so holy, help me Lord, help me Lord. For you are the King of Kings and Lord of Lords."
This repetitive memorized prayer technique does not seem natural or spontaneous. It is instead a contrived jargon taken from the bible seemingly for effect.
It is important to note that the term prophecy means different things to different people. Some see it as superstitious, something that comes from fortunetellers with a crystal ball. Others see it as addressing social catastrophes in the world that have been predicted. And still others believe it is connected to helping people through inspired encouragement and/or preaching. (Culpepper: 1977:112-13).
Most Christian churches today seem to see prophecy as inspired preaching or encouragement. They also see prophecy as predominantly historical as expressed through the time of prophets and apostles recorded in the bible. However, Charismatic Christians and Pentecostals see prophecies as contemporary and common today. And also, the Pentecostal tends to view the idea of prophecy as either addressing something that has been predicted or as inspired encouragement or preaching.
Some Christian groups have gone too far with prophecy, which when used incorrectly, can generate superstition and even turn some people away. For example, within many Pentecostal churches I visited prophecy time usually comes after or during praise and worship services. The music and tongues die down, but gently and persistently keep playing whilst the ministers voice rose to a firm pitch. Then, the minister would pick people out of the crowd and rebuke them of sin or tell them what they should or should not do about their current situation. Many vague metaphors and emotionally charged words were used. For example: "Don't change the way you are, you are beautiful and your life will flow like abundant rivers." Or, "You feel like a broken and twisted arrow, the Lord recommends you move on." Often, those picked out for a prophecy either began weeping or violently shaking. Some were so shaken that they fell back and had to be caught by another church elder.
These so-called prophecies seemed to target a specific person rather than include the entire church. How then can this really be considered as edifying the church? Again, as I said before, I was often in fear that the minister would one-day single me out. It is this very fear that the many of the more manipulative churches may operate upon. Such fear is used as a tool to ensure that the convert stays in line and keeps on track. Sometimes a Pentecostal church might clearly use such "prophecy" to manipulate and judge a member.
Another prophecy I once heard stated, "Oh come to me my flock, come to me and you will never thirst of grow weary." According to Schwertley, 'this kind of vague, nonspecific sort of 'prophecy' can never be confirmed as real, because it contains nothing specific regarding the future.'"(Schwertley: [ http://www.reformed.com/pub/charist.htm ] :p10). It is obvious that this kind of talk doesn't really do much to edify the church in a reasonable manner. It seems that members are just allowing themselves to move into a kind of transcended temporary mode and going along with the flow without questioning or challenging themselves.
Some Pentecostal believers are gullible and/or ignorant. They really do believe that what the minister is saying comes directly from God and that no one else knows about it. However, it also seems that if a member is said to be behaving in a devious manner, or a member chooses to share with another fellow member about a distressing situation they're in--it's not surprising that the first place the fellow member will disclose this information will be to the pastor. Such information often enables the minister to manipulate his flock. And since the issues are either addressed or condemned in the public worship space, it seems that the problems people are undergoing are not necessarily kept confidential.
The manipulative techniques of so-called prophecies may cause long-lasting psychological and mental damage. For example, one problem that exists within some Pentecostal churches regarding prophecies, is when a person speaks out and has not necessarily been commanded to do so by God. In such a situation, another member of the church is to weigh what is being said and tell that person to be quiet. In such a circumstance there is also the danger of not speaking out. Furthermore, many prophecies, which have been made, are untrue. In many cases these prophecies generate unreasonable fears within believers. The faithful church member is always trying to find and/or make meaning of the prophecy. They may constantly seek to ask God what it meant. Such a dilemma often leads to a type of mysticism and superstition, which is inconsistent with the bible. One might compare such prophecy to looking into a crystal ball or tarot cards.
Howard is certainly correct to argue that some Charismatic Christians have a similar worldview to the New Age movement and to other groups such as Christian Science. "Both Charismatics and New Agers offer simplistic, quick fix solutions, which are based in magic and superstition, to social and personal problems." (Howard: 1997:138). This argument is further consolidated in their attitudes to sicknesses and healing.
Think of all the Christians and non-Christians alike who have unconfessed sins. Some are jealous, lustful, arrogant, and boastful. Since ALL of us have unconfessed sins, why is it that some aren't sick? But instead only some of us are sick, while others are not. Just because someone is sick, doesn't necessarily mean that person has an unconfessed sin or is harboring a grudge. Such an attitude within the Church is dangerous. (See Matthew 7:1-5) First, this is a judgmental attitude. If a person feels condemned and judged it will only motivate them to feel worse about themselves and/or leave the church. Church should be a place for building up people. And church should never be a place to make someone feel they're somehow less of a person for being ill. Any assertions made about someone being sick because he or she holds some grudge is clearly biblically incorrect. Christians believe humans suffer in this world because we live after the fall, (i.e. within a "fallen world").
Many Pentecostal Christians attend huge healing gatherings whereby anyone who's sick is encouraged to attend in the hope of being healed. Perhaps the most prominent healing ministry within the so-called Pentecostal "Word of Faith" movement are the Benny Hinn crusades. Ten of thousands of people often attend a single Benny Hinn crusade, which are frequently held in huge stadiums. Benny Hinn has his own television show, which is used to publicize so-called "miracles" of healing. In Sydney, the Benny Hinn show is on television almost every morning at 5:00 AM or 5:30 AM. The program includes Benny Hinn teaching, Benny Hinn and his believers in praise and worship and Benny Hinn healing the sick. What's most astounding is the fact that Mr. Hinn has even claimed the ability to heal people watching his rerun shows. Of course Benny Hinn carefully explains he is the instrument of God, Jesus and/or the Holy Spirit, who use him only as a channel for healing. This is somewhat similar to the claims made by Christian Scientists and/or many New Age healers.
Generally, such faith healers say, "Oh Jesus hallelujah, hallelujah&there is a woman sitting somewhere in the middle of the audience, her daughter is suffering from ulcers in the gum, God is healing you daughter right now." The healer often exclaims, "Come out to the stage and be healed." Is there any real evidence that the person has actually been healed?
Although some people are said to have broken legs and crutches have been thrown onto the stage, this does not necessarily mean a person has been healed. Anyone can throw crutches on a stage and/or make claims. It is important to objectively evaluate any healing not evident to the naked eye by a process of expert medical review. Hence critical thinking is required.
According to Schwertley, Jesus Christ healed people entirely who were permanently deformed i.e.: had no ear, was blind, deaf, mute and suffering from leprosy. Jesus healed in public places spontaneously in front of both non-believers and believers. (Luke 22:51-52). He even made the dead come to life. For example: Lazarus. Jesus healed people so that they might come and believe in Christ. (Matthew 9:18-34).
Quite the contrary, modern faith healers like Benny Hinn only appear to be able to heal temporary, common illnesses such as back pain, mouth ulcers, and leg pain. Furthermore, modern healers today seem to heal largely if not exclusively in front of their own following in planned and confined Christian settings. Weren't miracles such as healing supposed to be a sign for both non-believers and believers rather than just for believers? Something is clearly not quite right if these so-called healers are only conducting healing miracles in front of believers. Are these modern healers really what they claim to be?
People like Benny Hinn and Kenneth Copeland have their own TV shows, which are broadcast internationally. But should God's gifts be used for show? These modern healers seem to take advantage of naïve believers who contribute much money to their ministries. They then draw substantial salaries and expenses, fly first class, buy expensive cars and often live in exclusive neighborhoods. Healing crusades appear to be big business and generate big money. According to Benny Hinn ( November 6, 1990, TBN sermon ) "poverty is from the devil and that God wants all Christians prosperous."
Within the "Faith Movement" many people have been told that they don't need to take their medications anymore. Taking this advice some really believed they were healed and died as a result ( Cited within a 1998 "60 Minutes" episode ). Such tragedies will hopefully cause people to question and consider such advice more clearly. Belief in healing should be coupled with a proper medical examination, before any medication or medical treatment is ended.
"Prophecy, healing, exorcism and spiritual warfare have all caused deep and lasting harm to people with genuine faith. To many outsiders, the movement would appear to represent a frightening return to medievalism and superstition." (Howard: 1997:119).
Charismatic Christians certainly appear to be zealous in their attempts to gain converts and create miracles. But by acting too extreme the net result may be a judgmental attitude and causing division in the church rather than edifying it. Many Charismatics seem to love showing mainstream Christians how things should be done. Again, the example stated previously, "We're baptized in the spirit, we speak in tongue, that means you should learn from us."
Charismatic Christians also tend to focus perhaps too much on feelings and personal experiences rather than the bible. They place their emphasis largely upon "spiritual gifts" rather than on Christ, who He was, what He said and did. As a result, they often become inward thinking and self-centered rather than focused on Christ and what He wants us to be. In my own personal experience as a Pentecostal Christian, Jesus became clouded like a distant figure.
In some cases it seems Pentecostal groups may almost worship a different Jesus and some are apparently heretical according to Christian scholars. For example, the so-called "Oneness" or "Jesus Only" Pentecostals, which are largely comprised by the denomination known as the United Pentecostal Church. Just because the words Jesus, God and Holy Spirit are used constantly in sermons doesn't necessarily mean their teachings are biblically sound and/or historically consistent with established Christian doctrines and beliefs such as the trinity.
In today's society, it's easy for Christians to become caught up with what spiritual gift you have and what spiritual gift you don't have. And as a direct result many Christians seem to forget about who Christ is and their own salvation. It can be destructive to become so focused on works and so self-absorbed.
Is Pentecostalism "Cult like"?
There is a diverse range of Pentecostal and charismatic groups. They cannot all be considered "cult like." Here are some points (Howard: 1997:140) to consider though, if you are in such a group and evaluating its safety:
"A convert becoming increasingly dependent on the movement for definitions and the testing of 'reality'.''
"A movement drawing sharp, negotiable boundaries between 'them' and 'us', 'godly' and 'satanic', 'good' and 'bad' - and so on.'"
"Leaders claiming divine authority for their actions and demands."
Some other points from (Bowmen: Weldon: 1999:375) especially in relation to "Oneness Pentecostals" that deny the doctrine of the trinity.
"Social isolation: Members are encouraged to distance themselves from "outsiders" insuring further isolation and dependence on the particular group."
"Spiritual intimidation: Members who leave may be told God will judge them or they will be turned over to Satan. To leave the church is to forsake God and court damnation."
"Compliance through shame: Those who violate OP (Oneness Pentecostal) standards or holiness must confess their sins before the entire church."
If you are involved with the Charismatic or Pentecostal movement or know someone who is involved that you worried about, I'd encourage you to consider that involvement carefully and leave if you find that church doctrinally unsound or destructive.
The Holy Bible: NIV (New International Version)
Ankerberg, J & Weldon, J. Encyclopedia of Cults and New Religions: Harvest House Publishers, USA; 1999.
Culpepper, Robert. H. Evaluating the Charismatic Movement: A Theological & Biblical Appraisal: Judson Press, USA; 1997.
Howard, Roland. Charismania:When Christian Fundamentalism Goes Wrong: Mowbray: London, UK; 1997.
Poloma Margret, M. The Assemblies of God at the Crossroads: Charisma & Institutional Dilemmas: University of Tennessee Press: Knoxville; 1989.
Institute for First Amendment Studies, Skipp Porteous
Reformed Witness, by Pastor Brian Schwertley
The Word is a Lamp to my feet: Houstons...we have a problem
The Word is a Lamp to my feet: Jumping on the bandwagon