If you ask the average Pentecostal what Pentecostalism is he’ll probably tell you it’s a Christian denomination defined by the experience of speaking in tongues as evidence of in-filing of the Holy Spirit. Pentecostals are huge on practical relationship with the Holy Spirit. They believe God can speak to you directly, hold conversations with you on a regular basis, even on mundane stuff. Some people think that’s insane of course and it’s understandable. God is far up there and we’re far down here after all. But the truth is, almost all experiences with God require us to be out of our mind. If you want water to be turned into wine you’ve got to be completely out of your mind.
But is that what Pentecostalism is all about – the speaking in tongues thing? Oh, there’s also that catch phrase favoured by Pentecostals – the “born again” stuff. They call it “salvation.” But that expression is not originally theirs. It actually originated with Jesus. Jesus told that guy who came to see him under cover of darkness – Nicodemus, “Don’t be shocked I’m asking you to get born again.” John 3:7. That’s LA translation by the way, but it accords with the text. The other article of faith favoured by Pentecostals is insistence baptism can’t be done on infants. That’s because they’ve not reached the age of accountability. But that’s not original to them either. The doctrine is associated with Anabaptists. Anabaptists were a fringe movement of the Protestant Reformation. We’ll talk about that in a minute, but the question remains, What is Pentecostalism? Is it just a denominational umbrella for radical approach to faith?
The word “Pentecostal” is actually a theological misnomer. It contradicts the doctrine of Pentecostals. The word came from the Old Testament Feast of Pentecost. It just so happened the Church was born on the day of the celebration of the Feast of Pentecost. That was when Peter & Co. got baptised with the Holy Spirit. Venue: Upper Room, Jerusalem. Acts 2. The Feast of Pentecost is also known as Feast of Harvest because first fruits were presented during the grain harvest in spring. Exodus 23:16. But the popular name for the festival among Jews is Shavuot or Feast of Weeks. During this celebration Jewish people recall the revealing of the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai. Pentecostals however say they’re not under the Law of Moses. This is in accordance with Romans 6:14 – “You’re not under the Law, but under grace.” It is therefore a contradiction in terms for those who repudiate the Law to be labelled after a feast commemorating the inauguration of the Law. That’s why the term “Pentecostal” is a misnomer.
In Nigeria there were two waves of Pentecostalism. There was the fundamental wave which featured Christ Apostolic Church; and then the Neo Pentecostalism wave. Neo Pentecostalism has two branches. The first featured Benson Idahosa and co. The second started as a youth movement. It was actually a reformative movement against orthodoxy. The movement didn’t just happen however. An English gentleman named S.G. Elton was instrumental. He was a missionary who lived in Ilesa, a town in south western region of Nigeria. He arrived in Nigeria in 1937. S.G. Elton is regarded as the father of the Pentecostal Revival movement in Nigeria.
Elton had a vision – he wanted to raise a new breed of leadership in the Nigerian church and to achieve this he concentrated on student bodies. His focus was university students. The youths were tired of orthodoxy. They found church miserable, dutiful and uninteresting. The sermons were more or less homilies – moral instruction. Only that moral instruction was taught in schools. The youths wanted spirituality.
The orthodox churches misread the movement. They mistook the desire for authentic worship for fastidiousness with disco. To satisfy this disco craving they bought jazz sets and other instruments. That will eventually spell doom for the tyranny of the pipe organ. The pipe organ is associated with English worship. What the orthodox churches didn’t know was that the youths were running from disco. Cutting off from night clubs was deemed proof of repentance, so how would they be hungering after disco.
But nothing demonstrated the saying of Jesus about father turning against son and daughter turning against mother than the Pentecostal movement in Nigeria. Parents didn’t understand the “born again” phenomenon. They felt the children were pointing accusing fingers at them, questioning their faith. They weren’t wrong. African parents had somehow found a scriptural basis for synthesis of African traditional religion with Christianity. They readily quoted, “Give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto God what is God’s.” And so they sacrificed to God and demons in equal measure. A spiritist multiculturalism was soon created. But what seemed like a youth fancy took on a new dimension when a church named Christ Chapel was born. The church was pastored by an ordained medical student named Tunde Joda. That church curiously met in a cinema. That was unprecedented in the 1980s. Christ Chapel came to typify the liberty of worship the youths craved. Soon other “Word” churches emerged, and with them a new breed of pastors. They were youths and didn’t wear cassock and surplice. They shunned liturgical formalism.
The Pentecostal reformation had turned a corner. But the reformation was not unlike earlier reformative movements in Christianity. There was the 16th century Protestant Reformation against the Catholic Church. The leader of that movement was Martin Luther, a pastor and professor at the University of Wittenberg, Germany. Martin Luther nailed his famous 95 Theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg but was soon excommunicated. But he wasn’t the first champion of reformation. Many reformers had attacked the corruption in the Catholic Church but Luther went to the theological root of the problem – the perversion of the doctrine of grace by the church. The church sold indulgences to reduce punishment for sin. There were two key ideas of that reformation – the call to purity, and the belief the Bible is the sole source of spiritual authority. It’s how we got the phrase, “Sola Scriptura.” That’s Latin for “by scripture alone.” But what really distinguished the Lutheran movement was the skilful use of the power of the printing press to give the ideas a wider audience. The equivalence today will be social media.
The Reformation would eventually find roots in England. But it came under dubious circumstances showing that God works through human events. Henry VIII, King of England had sought annulment of his marriage in order to procure a male heir. Pope Clement’s refusal to grant him an annulment led to his rejection of papal authority and in 1534 the Anglican Church was established. The Anglican Church would later be established in Nigeria in 1864.
The Bible actually contains stories on reformation. One of the most famous is the story of Elijah moving against the prophets of Baal. Those were bad dudes. They were given political cover by the baddest babe in town, Queen Jezebel. Baal was the fertility deity of the Canaanites. 1 Kings 18. As a fertility deity Baal was “Prince” and “Lord of the Earth.” His name means “Owner” and “Lord.” In the New Testament Baal is known as Beelzebub. It’s another name for Satan. The Bible is a cyclical history of God’s people going off tangent and God bringing them back through reformation. As far back as Mount Sinai the Israelites had gone crazy on God. They had barely left Egypt when they made a gold bull and began worshipping it. Exodus 32. And this after all those incredible miracles. Those guys saw the sea part. The pattern however continues today. The people of God just can’t keep it together.
To make minor adjustments God inspires mini reformations called “revival.” They are self-corrections. It would seem therefore that spiritual entropy is a natural order in Christianity and there will always be adjustments and realignments by God. “Pentecostalism” is not a denomination therefore. It was a reformative move of God – the upping of spiritual ante, the bringing of the people into higher spiritual dimensions and the fervency of intimacy.
Reformation is how God purges lethargy, deviancy and excesses from his church. The signs are pointing to another move of reformation. The theological root of the coming reformation lies in the distortion in Pentecostal churches. A wrong operational model seemed to have emerged. God didn’t design the church to revolve around the pastor. And this is not taking away from the calling of the pastor; but he’s supposed to train the people to do the work of the ministry. But the system has been inverted. The congregants are now mere enablers of the ministry of the pastor, they’re not ministers of the gospel. The inverted model ironically works to the detriment of the pastor. He’s now the single point of failure for the entire ministry. Because of the concentration of power in his person and office, power becomes the pastor’s temptation. And because such a system breeds sycophancy the ministry becomes an echo chamber.
The poor theological depth of the Pentecostal church is also a cause for concern. The fast food diet of the Pentecostal system has proved most unhealthy. Then there’s reliance on phenomena. This sometimes incorporates African traditional belief into Christianity. Same methods are employed. But phenomena can’t replace sound doctrine. The recent history of the church points to the danger of substituting phenomena for sound teaching. William Braham readily comes to mind in this regard. In a phenomena driven system the simple exercise of the gifts of the Spirit will lead to deification of the pastor. His word soon surpasses the authority of the word of God. Heresy beckons. The pastor is now infallible. He’s adored and treated like Assistant God. The only problem is that only God can handle worship and remain normal. It’s why we give him the glory. The pastor that absorbs worship will malfunction.
What is God’s next move? What is coming after neo Pentecostalism? Only God knows. But there’s a mini correction taking place already.
There are excesses in the Pentecostal system. There’s materialism and merger of African traditional religion. There’s also a problem with accountability. The central theme of the mini correction seems to be accountability – financial, ethical and spiritual. Accountability to God, accountability to society. Those are two themes. It is time the Pentecostals self-correct. There’s a shaking coming.
If you’ll like to receive Jesus into your life please pray this prayer: “Father I acknowledge that I am a sinner, that Jesus died for me, that you raised him from the dead. Father please forgive me. I accept Jesus today as my Lord and my Saviour. Amen.”
Theology Trivia: How will you define Pentecostalism?
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© Leke Alder | firstname.lastname@example.org.Almost all experiences with God require us to be out of our mind. If you want water to be turned into wine you’ve got to be completely out of your mind. Click To Tweet What is God’s next move? What is coming after neo Pentecostalism? Only God knows. But there’s a mini correction taking place already. Click To Tweet