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Book discussion: The Charismatic Century: Before Oral Roberts

We’re continuing our look at Jack Hayford and S. David Moore’s history of the charismatic movement, The Charismatic Century by beginning our discussion of chapter 7, Oral Roberts and a New Wave of Revival.

We actually won’t discuss Oral Roberts for a couple of weeks, though, as the first part of the chapter deals with other topics. This week, we’ll take a look at some key events within Pentecostalism in the early to mid-20th century.

We learn that by the mid-1920s, the Pentecostal church became as racially divided as American culture was. We also learn that Pentecostalism’s rejection of the world led to an isolationism that fostered rejection of it from those it rejected, including Catholics. Aimee Semple McPherson and leaders like her who sought to cast the full gospel message in a more positive light were the exceptions to the rule. (p. 160)

Pentecostals were also criticized for their stance on speaking in tongues by those Christians who otherwise shared the same convictions, or similar ones. Fundamentalists also rejected Pentecostalism in general, ironically given that Pentecostals supported fundamentalism. (160)

We also learn that there were various splits among Pentecostal churches, over everything from charges of denominationalism to “relatively minor doctrinal differences” to trivial things. The Church of God was one example, split over a power struggle between the movement’s leader A.J. Tomlinson and other leaders. The splinter group, the Tomlinson Church of God, itself split in subsequent years.

Hayford notes that “it was a far cry from the Azusa Street vision of a united church.” (161)

Still, we learn that the movement grew, particularly among the poor and the working class. Pentecostalism had a more ready audience during the “troubled times” of the 1930s; it was most effective in urban areas. Pentecostalism was also slowly ascending into the middle class, and many within the movement saw the need to affiliate with the larger body of Christ. Several Pentecostals, in fact, were part of the formation of the National Association of Evangelicals in 1943. (161-162)

The formation of the Pentecostal Fellowship of North America in 1948 also helped foster unity among Pentecostals, as denominations including the Assemblies of God, Foursquare, the Church of God and the Pentecostal Holiness Church united around a common statement of faith (but, Hayford and Moore note, oneness Pentecostals and African-American Pentecostal groups did not take part). (162)

The authors also say that the “tumultuous times of transition from 1906 to post-World War II” changed Pentecostalism, in that Pentecostals were forced to institutionalize (giving it stability but also bringing criticism from some who were “deeply suspicious” of denominationalism) and that a “quieting of emphasis” on “exuberant” worship and the practice of spiritual gifts in churches occurred after criticism of the movement for “emotionalism and fanaticism”. (162)

Some saw the building of churches in the better parts of the towns and cities they were in, and the increased social stature of Pentecostal church members in their communities, as signs of success. Others saw it as the revival fires that birthed the movement were being extinguished by the world. (163)

The coauthors then say that while many second- and third-generation Pentecostals weren’t as passionate about their faith as the movement’s founders were, there was a “longing for a fresh wave of revival” among the grassroots and an expectation of a new wave of revival. The authors conclude by saying “it was indeed on the way.” (163)

Next week: One of Todd Bentley’s biggest influences: the (in)famous William Branham.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I purchased this book myself, and my opinions are my own and not those of the author nor the publisher. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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