During his final days on earth Jesus prayed that his disciples would be united. That unity has proved elusive, which means there are many different ways of living and worshipping as a Christian throughout the world. The different groups into which the world’s churches are divided are called denominations.
The denominations which call themselves Pentecostal are less than a hundred years old. However, they are the fastest growing of all Christian groups, especially in Asia, Africa and Latin America. People join them because the services are exciting and the friendships formed are deep and supportive.
Shortly after Jesus rose from the dead his followers celebrated the festival called Pentecost. They found that the Holy Spirit of God had captivated them as never before. They were able to bring God’s healing to people, to speak in praise of God in languages they didn’t recognise, and they were bursting to tell people about Jesus.
These things still feature in Pentecostal services. They are lively and emotional, in many ways spontaneous, with lifted arms or dance. Worshippers sing or speak in new languages. This is called speaking in tongues, and often it is followed by someone else translating. They also pray for each other (ministry), and bring messages directly from God (prophecy). This is part of what the Bible refers to as ‘gifts of the Spirit’ and brings encouragement or challenge.
A Pentecostal service will also include a high-powered sermon. The teaching stresses the importance of coming to Jesus with repentance and belief. Preachers are applauded or given cries of, ‘Amen!’ as they build hope and guide people into just and holy lives. (Sometimes they have been criticised for being too directive, particularly in the area of money.) Many Pentecostal services stress ‘baptism in the Spirit’ which is a powerful experience of God marked by speaking in tongues, which gives Christians the ability to be a witness to Jesus.
You can read about the rise of Pentecostal churches in the 20th century section of the history of Christianity. It also explains how the ‘charismatic movement’ associated with Pentecostal styles of worship have impacted on every other denomination. A small selection of the hundreds of church names associated with Pentecostalism are Assemblies of God, Hillsong, Elim Pentecostal, and Redeemed Christian Church of God.
What the Bible says about it
An extract from the Bible:
Be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God.
Where to find it:
About these words:
Paul’s advice to the Christians in the church at Ephesus about thirty years after Jesus’ resurrection is a fine description of Pentecostal worship.
And they said...
William J Seymour, leader of the revival in Los Angeles that was one of the founding events of Pentecostalism, 1870-1922:
The Pentecostal power, when you sum it all up, is just more of God’s love. If it does not bring more love, it is simply a counterfeit.
Billy Ray Cyrus, US singer and songwriter:
I've never left my faith - but I have made a lot of mistakes. Was I fortunate that I was brought up in that Pentecostal church, where I heard about God’s love and God’s forgiveness!
Denzil Washington, actor:
My father was a minister for fifty years in the Pentecostal Church of God in Christ. We prayed about everything, every day, then he always said, ‘Amen. God is love.’ I thought God is love was one word: ‘Godislove’. And it took me a long time to learn what that really meant.