Distinctive Teachings of Pentecostalism
Pr. A. T. Johnson
Pentecostalism is a renewal movement which originated within Protestant Christianity. This movement emphasises a direct personal experience with God through baptism of the Holy Spirit. In today’s Christendom Pentecostalism is seen as a widely used and common title.
In its infancy many thought that this movement would be erased from history or stay confined within a narrow segment of the Christian world. This thinking originated because Pentecostalism was not a universal phenomena. Now, the picture has changed, and this movement has expanded phenomenally across the globe.
Amidst oppositions and challenges, Pentecostalism survived because of its strong teachings rooted on the inerrancy of the Bible and the necessity of accepting Jesus Christ as personal Lord and Savior. "Because of their commitment to biblical authority, spiritual gifts, and the miraculous, Pentecostals tend to see their movement as reflecting the same kind of spiritual power and teachings that were found in the Apostolic Age of the early church.”
Following are the distinctive teachings or the fundamental doctrines of Pentecostalism or Pentecostal churches (Acts 2: 38-42).
Repentance is a very significant subject in the Holy Bible. This word is seen over 100 times in the scripture (‘repent,’ ‘repentance’ and ‘repented). In the ministries of John the Baptist (Matt. 3:2); Jesus Christ (Mk. 1:14-15); Peter (Acts 2:38) and Paul (Acts 17:30), we see the relevance of the term repentance. The risen Christ to the church at Ephesus says, “…repent …. Unless you repent” (Rev. 2:5). All these references remind us that the total message of the Bible to the fallen mankind is repentance.
Pentecostalism emphasizes the need for the transformation of an individual’s life through faith in Jesus. A repented person comes to the saving knowledge of Christ. This is possible when a person goes through a change of heart and mind toward God; abandons sin completely; puts his/her faith in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Sins are forgiven and the concerned person comes into reconciliation with God. Through this process the repented one enjoys a born again experience. The believer is regenerated, justified, and adopted into the family of God. Thus, the Holy Spirit’s work of sanctification is initiated.
Repentance is a change of mind that leads to a change of conduct. All need to repent because all are guilty in God’s sight. Repentance comes before forgiveness. When a person comes to the experience of repentance it touches his/her intellect, emotions and will. Basically, repentance is the gift of God (Acts 11:18). Repentance is possible when a person gives ear to the message of the gospel. The Holy Spirit convicts that person of his/her sin and a resultantly, a great desire to repent comes over the individual. This new birth is received by the grace of God through faith in Christ, our Lord and Saviour.
2. Water Baptism
Baptism in water is a cardinal teaching of the Pentecostal churches. It is the counsel of God (Lk. 7:30), that first originated in the mind of the Almighty. The Triune God sent a man to implement this ordinance on earth whose name was John (Jn. 1:6). Jesus Christ received this baptism by John (later known as John the Baptist) and thereby became an example to the world. Pentecostal churches faithfully follow this ordinance that was not initiated by man or a denomination but by the Triune God Himself - this was emphasized by Jesus in the Great Commission and the apostles obeyed it. (Matt. 28:18-20).
Though there are different modes of baptisms prevalent in Christendom, Pentecostalism observes it by following the root word meaning of it. In the Greek language, ‘baptisma’ is the word used for ‘baptism’. Baptism means, ‘dipping in water’. While other Christian denominations observe this sacrament of baptism by sprinkling, pouring or effusion; the Pentecostals do so by immersion.
A person accepts baptism in water once he/ she identifies with the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus which is best portrayed by immersion (Rom. 6:3-6). The scripture also teaches us that the candidates to be baptised ‘went into the water and came out of the water’ (Acts 3:38, 39). So the Pentecostals believe that 'baptism' implies immersion baptism is the scriptural one and do not see instances of sprinkling baptism ever referred.
Baptism in water is given only to those who personally and willingly respond to the call of salvation. Hence, Pentecostals do not promote Paedobaptism (infant baptism), rather the teaching is on credobaptism (believer’s baptism).
The scripture tells us what kind of people ought to be baptized -
a.) those who were taught to obey (Matt. 28:20),
b.) who had received the word (Acts 2:41),
c.) and who had received the Holy Spirit (Acts 10:44-47).
It is obvious that not one of the categories mentioned above include children. The question of household does not necessarily demand that there were infants among them. If so, surely the Holy Spirit would have given a guidance for us in this regard.
Since baptism is an act of obedience to God, no person has the right to deny or neglect it. In short, it is an outward expression of an inward faith. This ordinance is given in the name of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit (Matt. 28:19).
3. Baptism in the Holy Spirit
This is another unique teaching in the Bible. In fact, it was the disciples' first major experience after Jesus ascended into heaven. Baptism in the Holy Spirit is a divine experience foretold in the Old Testament (Joel 2:28, 29) and fulfilled on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:23). This is when a the spirit of God or the Holy Spirit indwells in a believer. It is the Spirit that empowers that person for specific service. With this mighty power a believer can fight against the spiritual enemies - he/she gains the power for spiritual warfare. It also helps the Christian believer to have the ability to follow divine direction, face persecution and to exercise spiritual gifts for the edification of the church. According to the Pentecostal belief baptism in the Holy Spirit is available to all Christians if they fulfill the fundamental requirements of repentance from sin and are born again. At the same time, by citing instances in the Book of Acts, Pentecostals believe a Christian need not be baptized in water to receive spirit baptism (Acts 10:40-47), but believe that the biblical model in this regard is “repentance, regeneration, water baptism, and then the baptism with the Holy Ghost.”
Certain conditions like weak faith, unholy living, imperfect consecration and egocentric motives may delay a Christian believer from receiving this experience. Speaking in tongues is an immediate or critical physical evidence that a person has received this experience. Though there is only one baptism with the Spirit, there are many infillings with the spirit throughout the life of a believer. Therefore, Pentecostal teaching stresses that in order to lead a spirit-filled life, a Christian believer should continually be filled with the Spirit. And with that mighty power they (the spirit-filled ones) worship the Lord in spirit and truth (Jn. 4:24).
4. Separation from Worldliness
On the day of Pentecost, Apostle Peter insisted that the enquirers separate themselves from the untoward or crooked generation (Acts 2:40). Definitely, a Christian believer has to be separated from this perverted and crooked generation. This means to leave the old ways of life, ways of worship and practices in v. 41, we read, “then they that gladly received his word were baptized and the same day there were added unto them three thousands souls.” It reminds us that the new converts did not go back to their old religion or to their old worship, instead they joined the apostles. They fully separated themselves from the old and conformed to the new way of life.
Separation in another sense means a ‘transformed’ life. In Romans 12:2, Paul exhorts the believers, “And be not conformed to this world, but ye be transformed by the renewing of your mind, …” In the original manuscript, the phrase ‘be not conformed to this world’ can mean in the sense of ‘do not change your colour according to the situation.’ It exhorts us that a Christian believer must never be an opportunist. Since a believer is different from others, he or she should lead a holy (‘hagios’ in Greek means something different from others and not common) and separated life in this world. The Pentecostal teaching of separation is two-fold. The first one is, separation from sin, and the second is, separation unto God. In 2 Corinthians 6:17, 18, we read, “wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, and will be a father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.”
Personal separation involves not being unequally yoked (2 Cor. 6:14), not loving the world (1 Jn. 2:15-17) not having fellowship with sinning bretheren (1 Cor. 5:11), and, on positive side, exhibiting Christlikeness. Christians are not allowed to lead a life which is according to the fashion of this world or according to the former lusts in ignorance. Instead, we should be fully “set apart from sin and to God”. Our life should be motivated by God’s perfect holiness. The one which has called us in holy, so, we also must be holy (1 Pet. 1:14-16).
5. Apostolic Doctrines and Fellowship
Pentecostal churches lay tremendous importance to the apostolic doctrines. In the first century, believers gathered together in fellowship to hear ‘apostolic doctrine’. It is mentioned that, ‘And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, …’ Acts 2:42. In the life of the first century believers these two, i.e., ‘apostolic doctrine and fellowship,’ came together. On the other hand, we can understand that they came together in fellowship to hear the apostolic doctrines.
Apostolic doctrine refers to all the scriptures that apostles preached during that time. According to apostle Paul, “All scripture is given by the inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness. That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.” 2 Timothy 3:16, 17. To lead a proper and fruitful victorious Christian life, believers in Christ definitely need the hearing of the Word of God in their day to day life. This is because the Word of God is the regenerating seed (1 Pet 1:23), the nourishing milk (1 Pet. 2:2), the lamp that shows light in the darkened path (Ps. 119:105), refining fire (Jer. 23:29), the reflecting mirror (James 1:23) etc. in a believer’s life.
A Christian is enriched through the Word of God. The apostolic teaching brought much courage into the life of the early believers amidst oppositions, persecutions and the troubles. They were strengthened in faith because of the sound teaching. Remember, many false teachers intruded into the different realms of the early church to distort her faith. But the apostles led the first century church along the right path through the true teaching of the Word. Now we have both the Old Testament and the New Testament, i.e., the Holy Bible is with us. Definitely, the reading, hearing, preaching and the teaching of the Scriptures will lead the church to a Christ-centered life. True teaching of the Word will present the church incorrupt. The fellowship in Christ will help us walk in obedience to the will of God. Suffer together, learn together, serve together, comfort one another, pray together, bear one another’s burden etc, all are rooted on our fellowship in Christ. Thus the Pentecostal churches are committed to the apostolic doctrines and fellowship.
6. The Lord’s Table
Another distinctive teaching of Pentecostalism is its commitment to the celebration of the Lord’s Table which is one of the ordinances or sacraments instituted by Lord Jesus Himself. (Matt. 26:26-29). The story of the first communion is told in the gospels. Jesus celebrated this with His disciples on the eve of Gethsemane. The meaning, purpose and the significance of this divine ordinance is given by Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:23-32. Here he says that he received it directly from the Lord. Though there are different names or titles used for this service in Christendom. Only the titles ‘Breaking of Bread’ (Acts. 2:42; 20:27), ‘Lord’s Table (1 Cor. 10:21), and ‘Lord’s Supper’ (1 Cor. 11:20) are directly used for this ordinance in the scripture - all three are terms used by Pentecostals.
We observe this ordinance in obedience to the command of Christ. And we will continue this until the Second Coming of Christ Jesus. It reminds us of the pain, sufferings and the death of our Lord Jesus on the cross. The participants of this service are saved, baptized, separated and continue in apostolic doctrine. Only those who fulfill these requirements can partake in the Lord's Table, which they do after self-examination.
As the book of Acts states, the first century believers observed it daily in the beginning. Later this practice changed into once in a week. But in 1 Cor. 11:20 we read, they conducted this whenever they came together.. So the time is not important, only the gathering. And also, the Pentecostals do not believe the change of substance used in this service. That is, some have the view that when the bread and wine are blessed by the priest or the minister the substance will be changed into the real body and blood of Christ. They call this teaching as ‘Transubstantiation.’ It is mainly held by the Roman Catholics. Pentecostals teach that the elements served to us during Lord's Supper stay the same. There the time of observing it
As we all know, prayer is the most important factor in a Christian's life. Though nobody can clearly define ‘what is prayer’, it can be summed up in the following words. “Prayer is talking with God or the conversation between the Heavenly Father and His children;. According to Alban Douglas, “Prayer is an offering up of our desires to God for all things lawful and needful, with humble confidence that we shall obtain them through the meditation of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.” Prayer plays an important role in pentecostal worship. The Holy Bible teaches us that all the godly men prayed to God in all their living conditions. In our Christian life Jesus is our model for our prayer life. During His earthly ministry Jesus was fully devoted to God in prayer, especially at night.
One of His disciples asked, “Lord teach us to pray, …” (Lk. 11:1) He taught them a pattern of prayer. During that time it was customary for famous rabbis to compose special prayers. After Jesus, we see, the apostles and the church devoted themselves in prayer. So prayer is a medium through which a Christian finds success in life situations.
Some may ask why the Pentecostals do not pray the prayer taught by Jesus: The answer is simple. It is only a model prayer. So a believer in Christ must boldly say, ‘prayer is the life breath of a saint.’ In it we follow the model put forward by Jesus, the Lord and Savior who spent much time in prayer.
Pentecostals highlight many things in relation with the fundamental teachings of the Bible. The above mentioned teachings are valuable in their day to day life. Since the church is built on Christ the rock of ages. We follow the example of Christ. We follow the teachings of Lord Jesus and apostolic fathers laid before us. We are not in favour of later additions or subtractions. Let us focus on Christ the Author and Perfecter of our faith. Teach true doctrine to the believers, give pure spiritual milk, so that they may grow into the fullness of Christ in all walks of life. Our motto is 'to make and present every one perfect in Christ.'