Protestant reformation occurred in the 16th century. In other words, Protestantism was born in the 16th century.
We live in the 21st century. Sadly, within a span of 500 years, the spiritual decline of the mainline Protestants (Methodist, Baptist, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Anglican etc.) gained momentum.1
It may be quite reasonable to date the birth of Pentecostalism to the 20th century, although The United Holy Church and the Pentecostal Holiness Church would date the birth of Pentecostalism to the 19th century, 1886 and 1879, respectively.2 The birth of Pentecostalism is so precious to Christendom that Life magazine declared it as among the top 100 events of the second millennium – ranked 68th to be precise.3
Pentecostalism is growing at the rate of 35,000 believers a day or 13 million a year. It is the second largest denomination in Christianity, second only to the Roman Catholics.4
God did not sit tight watching the decline of Protestant denominations. God birthed the Pentecostal movement.
The decline of mainline denominations need not be construed as a decline of Christianity. The decline merely reveals the decline of nominal Christianity, argues Ed Stetzer, President of Lifeway Research, an evangelical research company. He said, “A better reading of the stats is found when you move beyond the headlines and see a long, slow (but accelerating) decline of (mostly) nominal Christianity. However, the percentage of convictional Christians has remained relatively steady, with some decline.”5
Ed Stetzer is indeed right. There are greater possibilities for the nominal Christian to reject the Lord than the spiritually mature Christians. This compels us to consider the aspect of nominal Christianity.
The Lausanne Movement, founded by the much acclaimed Christian evangelist Dr. Billy Graham, characterized a nominal Christian as, “…a person who has not responded in repentance and faith to Jesus Christ as his personal Saviour and Lord. He is a Christian in name only. He may be very religious. He may be a practising or non-practising church member. He may give intellectual assent to basic Christian doctrines and claim to be a Christian. He may be faithful in attending liturgical rites and worship services, and be an active member involved in church affairs. But in spite of all this, he is still destined for eternal judgment (cf. Matt. 7:21-23, Jas. 2:19) because he has not committed his life to Jesus Christ (Romans 10:9-10)” (Emphasis Mine).6
The nominal Christian bears personal responsibility for his spiritual malady. However, the church is also equally responsible for the sustenance of nominal Christianity.
In our context, since it is the nominal Christian who is more likely to reject Christ, the church responsible for the sustenance of nominal Christianity were the mainline Protestant churches. Therefore, the birth of Pentecostalism, which emphasizes much on the gifts of the Holy Spirit, was much needed and extremely justified.
Praise God from whom all blessings flow!
Being the second largest tradition after the Roman Catholic Church, it would be worthwhile to consider the spiritual contributions of the Pentecostal tradition to Historic Christianity.
First, Pentecostals believe in the inspiration, inerrancy and the infallibility of the Bible. They also believe that salvation is through Christ alone. These beliefs are vital to control and oppose the development of the liberal and postmodern Christianity that desacralizes the Bible to be a mere historical document and feigns salvation upon all and sundry.
Second, nominal Christians tend to be much lesser within the Pentecostal tradition. Pentecostals by virtue of their theology – emphasis upon the baptism of the Holy Spirit – tend to rather instinctively restrict the presence of nominal Christians in their fold. A Pentecostal yearns and prays for the gifts of the Holy Spirit. This vital desire of the Pentecostal to be the channel of the Holy Spirit’s gifts sustains him in the Lord’s presence, thus preventing him to be a nominal Christian.
Third, Pentecostals are stern fundamentalists about social behavior. Many Pentecostal denominations ban traditional vices such as alcohol, tobacco, movies, and short-sleeved dresses. In today’s context, this much needed attribute of the local Pentecostal church would vigorously oppose homosexuality, abortion and the other sinful practices that many mainline churches endorse.
Last but not the least, one of the local church’s main emphases is upon the spiritual development of our youth. Youth are more attracted to a Pentecostal church than a mainline church. When the mainline churches struggle to attract the youth to attend their worship services, the natural presence of youth in their worship services offers the Pentecostal church a tremendous advantage to nurture them and develop their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Are there challenges to the Pentecostal movement? Yes of course!
Divisions are always a challenge to the unity of any movement. There are almost 11,000 denominations in the Pentecostal movement. This could pose a serious challenge to the Pentecostal movement.
However, history has taught us a valuable lesson that there could be unity in diversity. So by the grace of God, the various denominations of the Pentecostal movement could thrive even amidst their differences and be united in serving God and HIS people.
I am a Christian. I do not consider myself a Pentecostal, for I do not believe that all Christians ought to speak in tongues. Since speaking in tongues is one of the prime tenets of the Pentecostal faith statement, I disqualify myself from being a Pentecostal (although I could speak in tongues in my private prayer time). I am more an Evangelical Christian than a Pentecostal.
There exists a definite theological tension between the Pentecostals and the mainline churches where each one claims spiritual superiority over the other. However, the theological differences are not severe enough to disrupt the peace between the concerned entities. Hence we could agree to disagree on the theological differences and live in harmony with each other.
The need of the hour is unity and not division. When Historic Christianity is constantly under fire from the secular and postmodern world, I believe with all my heart that it is the Pentecostals, Evangelicals and the faithful Christians from the other denominations that will uphold and sustain Historic Christianity.
Blessed indeed are the Pentecostals for they have blessed Historic Christianity immensely. Let us pray for the continued growth and sustenance of Pentecostals and may their service to the Lord and HIS people be much fruitful.
Websites cited were last accessed on 21st July 2016.
Glossary of Terms:
http://www.pewforum.org/2006/10/05/spirit-and-power-a-10-country-survey-of-pentecostals2/ offers definition of the following terms:
Members of denominations that emphasize the gifts of the Holy Spirit, including the belief that speaking in tongues is necessary evidence of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Pentecostals belong either to one of the historical denominations, such as the Assemblies of God and the Church of God in Christ, that originated in the religious revivals of the early 20th century, or to newer, largely independent churches, sometimes labeled as neo-pentecostal churches.
Members of Protestant denominations who hold traditional religious beliefs but are neither pentecostal nor fundamentalist. Evangelicals do not stress the gifts of the Holy Spirit (as pentecostals do), but they are not hostile to them (as fundamentalists are). All three groups share certain basic religious doctrines, such as the need for believers to have a conversion experience (i.e., be “born again”) and to convert non-believers. As a consequence, they all can be thought of as belonging to a broader evangelical Protestant tradition.
Members of the once-dominant Protestant denominations. Although affirming many traditional beliefs, these churches are known for their generally progressive theology and openness to new ideas and societal changes. These denominations do not stress the gifts of the Holy Spirit but are often tolerant of such practices, and thus include charismatics in their ranks.