A Guest Post by Michael Carden
Pentecostalism was much discussed in the leadup to and aftermath of the Australian election, with much debate around the link between churches such as Hillsong and the Liberal Party and the politics of Family First. For a lot of commentators and participants, these developments came out of the blue and the Pentecostalist movement was little known or understood. It’s appropriate, then, to put the debate over the political and religious implications of Pentecostalism on a sounder footing underpinned by expert knowledge. To that end, I’m very pleased to be able to introduce Troppo readers to an article on the history and nature of Pentecostalism and its political theology and practice, specifically written for Troppo by Dr Michael Carden, Honorary Research Associate in the Department of Studies in Religion at The University of Queensland.
HARVESTING THE FRUITS OF THE SPIRIT? – AN OVERVIEW OF PENTECOSTALISM
Over the past year Pentecostalism has been making an impact on both popular and political culture in Australia. Last year’s Australian Idol winner, Guy Sebastian, is associated with the Paradise Community Church in Adelaide. Hillsong church in Sydney has released a number of CDs of religious music, one of which debuted earlier this year at #1 on the Australian album chart. Hillsong has also attracted political attention. Prime Minister Howard opened its headquarters and Treasurer Costello spoke at its annual conference in July. The new Liberal member for Greenway, Louise Markus, is herself a member of the Hillsong church. Even more striking has been the apparent success of the Family First Party in securing a Victorian Senate position in the federal elections, although this was due to preference deals on the part of the ALP and Democrats, FF only securing a small percentage of the direct vote. However, as Family First is linked almost exclusively to the Assemblies of God the largest Pentecostal denomination in Australia concern has grown that this country might be seeing a new sectarian conservative element in our politics not seen since the demise of the DLP. The DLP was linked to the Roman Catholic church, the largest and one of the oldest Christian denominations in the world. However, the Pentecostal movement, from which Family First emerged, is a new and rapidly spreading phenomenon and consequently little understood, a factor adding to the concerns about the success of Family First and the links between the Liberal Party and such churches as Hillsong. Added to concerns about conservative sectarianism, therefore, is the unease generated by a new religious movement with outlandish associations.
ELSEWHERE: Joel has some complementary thoughts on Pentecostalism at Approach the Bench.
Pentecostalism takes its name from its central tenet of baptism in the Spirit and the associated experience of speaking in tongues or glossolalia. Pentecostals claim that this represents a return to primitive Christian origins as recounted in Acts 2:4 where the Apostles and other followers of Jesus experienced the descent of the Holy Spirit in tongues of fire and all were “filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.” On that Pentecost, it is reported, pilgrims in Jerusalem hailing from around the Roman Empire and beyond could hear the Apostles “speaking in the native language of each” [Acts 2:6]. Strictly speaking, this particular phenomenon would have been an example of xenolalia whereby a person speaks or prays in the words of an actual language unknown to them. Glossolalia, however, is a form of ecstatic speech, not necessarily in any actual language, but rather “speaking with the tongues of angels” [1 Corinthians 13:1]. Despite its association with early Christianity, such ecstatic speech had been a feature of the Oracle at Delphi. It also occurs in Inuit, Saami and African shamanic religions and is found in Haitian Voodoo. While glossolalia appears to have been practiced by the early Christians in Corinth, it never became part of the Christian mainstream. It was associated with the Montanist Christian movement that began in Phrygia in the 2nd century CE and lasted until the 8th century. There are occurrences of ecstatic speech associated with the Reformation Anabaptists and in the 17th/18th century French movements of Jansenism and the Camisards. It manifested in the 1830s Irvingite movement in Scotland that gave rise to the Catholic Apostolic churches and was also found in the Shakers in the early Quakers.
The modern Pentecostal movement is no more than a century old having its origins in early 20th century United States and coming out of the Holiness movement of the latter half of the 19th century. Having its origins in Methodism, the Holiness movement was based on Wesleyan theology and preached a Christian perfectionism by which the believer would first experience conversion and justification, becoming freed of all their sins, and then go on to sanctification, by which the believer would be freed from the flaw in their moral nature causing them to sin. Following sanctification, believers then strove to love God with all their heart mind and soul and thus are able to live without conscious or deliberate sin. Such Holiness theology underpins all Pentecostal denominations and puts them in opposition to Calvinist or Reformed/Presbyterian churches, which reject any notion of perfectionism.
By 1880, the Holiness movement had moved beyond its Methodist denominational boundaries with groups seeing it as the means of a complete Christian renewal and preachers calling for a coming out of the existing denominations. New Holiness churches were founded. Many groups added a third blessing baptism of the Spirit as part of sanctification with associated glossolalia. By the late 1890s, specific Holiness churches had been formed based on this three-stage perfectionist model, in which glossolalia was understood as evidence of sanctification. Two such churches, Church of God Prophecy and Church of God (Cleveland) have small followings in Australia.
Classic Pentecostalism, however, began in the first decade of the 20th century. In Topeka Kansas, Charles Parham, a former Methodist pastor and holiness preacher had established a bible school. Glossolalia was a central part of Parham’s message and one of his students, Agnes Ozman, spoke in tongues on 1 January 1901. Many Pentecostal denominations such as the Assemblies of God see this event as marking the beginnings of their movement, significantly on the first day of the century. While Parham launched several revival crusades in 1903, it was the Azusa St revival in Los Angeles in 1906 that gained widespread attention and led to the rapid spread of the movement. William Seymour, a black holiness preacher and student of Parham’s, opened the Azusa St Mission which was a multi-racial congregation of Hispanics, Blacks and some Whites. Central to the revival was the baptism of the Holy Spirit and talking in tongues together with healing services. Azusa St became a centre of pilgrimage and by September 1906 it was claimed that 13,000 people had been baptized in the Spirit. The Mission lasted three years but eventually fell apart due to inter-ethnic tensions. From its beginnings Pentecostalism has been an international movement. In 1905, a revival in Wales saw the beginnings of Pentecostalism there and Pentecostal movements began in Brazil and Chile at that time. The first assembly in Australia was formed in Melbourne in late 1909.
The defining feature of Pentecostalism is the belief in the Baptism of the Holy Spirit following conversion, which imparts various miraculous gifts and equips believers for Christ’s service. This Baptism is manifested by glossolalia, the gift of tongues. Other gifts imparted include those of healing, prophecy, and exorcism. Pentecostalism is subjective and experiential in its focus and Pentecostal worship is enthusiastic with handclapping, singing and preaching that is simple and fervent. Pentecostals adopt contemporary cultural forms in their worship. Worship can be high-tech with feel-good light pop music there is a strong emphasis on music in Pentecostal churches It’s no surprise that Guy Sebastian with his musical experience as a singer in Adelaide’s Paradise church, could win Australian Idol. Pentecostals do not reject contemporary culture so much as appropriate and Christianize it. While Pentecostals share with Fundamentalists a belief in the inerrancy of scripture, Pentecostal approaches to biblical interpretation are much freer and open than fundamentalist or evangelical/reformed Christians. The latter interpret scripture in a more contextual manner and seek a definitive meaning. Pentecostal interpretation is much more subjective and is said to be more in tune with postmodern and reader-centred approaches to textual interpretation. Pentecostal interpretation of a passage will not focus on its context or final meaning but on the current needs of the community or individual. Therefore, Pentecostals do not assume that any interpretation can exhaust the possible meaning of any text. Thus meaning is not dependent on the textual context but on the life context of the interpreting individual/community. Unlike evangelicals and other conservative Christians, Pentecostals welcome women into ministry and preaching. Women were ordained into ministry from the beginning of the Assemblies of God in the US (1914), the main denomination of Classic stream Pentecostalism, and from 1909 in the Church of God (Cleveland). Aimee Semple Mcpherson, Maria Beulah Woodworth-Ettor and Kathryn Kuhlman are prominent examples of female Pentecostal preachers in the US. A woman, Janet Lancaster, founded the first Australian assembly in Melbourne.
Nevertheless, Pentecostals share with evangelicals a conservative approach to marriage and gender relations. The Assemblies of God in the US says of marriage:
The marriage relationship encompasses the deepest unity of man and woman in its social and physical expressions. The first woman was declared to be a suitable helper for the man (Genesis 2:18), the perfect complement (Genesis 2:23). God intended them to share both blessings and responsibilities. Mutual esteem and self-giving love strengthen the marriage relationship. God intended this physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual union to be focused on one partner only.
Ideally, the relationship between husband and wife should parallel the relationship between Christ and the Church (Ephesians 5:23-30). The husband should love his wife “as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25). The wife should submit to her husband as the Church should submit to the Lord (Ephesians 5:22-24). But it is a misreading of Scripture, however, to conclude that the husband can become dictatorial. The entire passage is introduced by the admonition, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21). It is only after each spouse submits one to another from a heart of love that the head/submission relationship will work. The husband has special responsibility for the spiritual leadership and welfare of the wife and family (Psalms 78:5-8, Ephesians 5:23). While the woman has responsibility as a parent, God has called the husband to be the leader in the home. The woman is not inferior to the man. Both have full dignity and equal standing before God. In homes where the father is not a Christian or refuses to provide spiritual leadership, it is right for the mother to assume this responsibility. Strong spiritual training is essential for children to develop spiritually (Proverbs 22:6) [Relationships, Conduct and Sexuality: Marriage]
Assemblies of God Australia states as one of its key values that “we value people of all races and gender and accept them as equal before God” but would no doubt agree with its US counterpart on marriage. And while the Assemblies of God in both countries stress their inclusivity, there is clearly no place for homosexuality and same-sex relationships. Ironically, however, Metropolitan Community Church, the largest international denomination of primarily LGBT Christians, was founded in Los Angeles 1968 by Troy Perry, a former Pentecostal pastor expelled from ministry on the grounds of his homosexuality.
Assemblies of God Australia was formed 1937 during a conference of the Pentecostal Church of Australia and Assemblies of God Queensland. The former denomination began as a house group in Melbourne in 1916. The group eventually opened a hall in 1925 and grew over the following two years with the aid of a visiting American preacher, such that a Bible College and paper were founded and congregations established around Victoria and in South Australian and New South Wales. Assemblies of God Queensland had been formed in 1929 following divisions in the Apostolic Faith Mission of Australasia, a movement founded in 1927 by a visiting South African evangelist, Frederick Van Eyk, who arrived here to conduct revival campaigns in 1926.
In its structure, Assemblies of God Australia promotes considerable autonomy at the congregational level. Congregations are either registered or unregistered. To be registered a congregation must reach certain standards of organisation and size (at least 25 members) and unregistered congregations remain under the supervision of the AoGA State executives. Registered congregations are autonomous but are required to adhere to the AoGA constitution. In 1986 less than half of all AoGA congregations were registered. In February 2000, AoGA formed an alliance), known as Australian Christian Churches, with the Apostolic Church Australia and Bethesda Ministries International along with the independent congregations, Riverview Church (WA) and CityLife Church Knox (Victoria. Since then the alliance has expanded to include several other Pentecostal denominations – Christian Churches in Australia, Christian Life Churches International, Christian Churches Network and Abundant Life Churches International – together with a number of independent congregations. On its website, Australian Christian Churches claims that its member churches are second to the Roman Catholic Church in church attendance figures with “over 190,000 people” attending “Churches affiliated with Australian Christian Churches every weekend”. Australian Christian Churches is also responsible for a wide variety of community care programs including aged care, youth, family, employment, indigenous, ethnic and migrant services.
Nevertheless, while it promotes itself as an alliance of churches, Australian Christian Churches illustrates another feature of the Pentecostal movement, its fissiparous tendencies. Pentecostalism is a charismatic movement, in which prophecy is an important component and which thus regularly throws up powerful preachers and revival movements leading to ever more splits and denominations. I stated above that Assemblies of God Queensland was formed out of divisions in Apostolic Faith Mission of Australasia, founded in 1927 by Frederick Van Eyk. In the 1930s, Van Eyk went on to found the Foursquare Church which later affiliated with Aimee Semple Mcpherson’s International Church of the Foursquare Gospel and continues as a separate denomination in Australia. Assemblies of God Australia and its international counterparts are probably the largest representative of what is known as the classic stream of Pentecostalism deriving from the revivals around Topeka and Azusa St early last century. In Australia, the classic stream consists of at least another 20 denominations and a variety of independent congregations including a range of ethnically based ones. Early on in the movement, in 1916, there was a schism in the Assemblies of God Unites States over the nature of Christ and the trinity, which gave rise to the oneness stream of Pentecostalism. These oneness Pentecostals believed that in the early Church baptisms were performed in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and not in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Oneness Pentecostals eventually rejected trinitarian theology and adopted a Unitarian modalistic position, affirming the divinity of Jesus but rejecting the three distinct persons of the Godhead. There are about a dozen oneness Pentecostal denominations in Australia, including a branch of the United Pentecostal Church International which came into being in 1916 when oneness Pentecostals were excluded from the Assemblies of God US. Another oneness denomination in Australia is the True Jesus Church, which was founded in Beijing in 1917 and was first established in Australia in 1982. Some oneness Pentecostals teach an exclusivist theology by which there is no salvation without baptism of the Holy Spirit and the gifts of the Spirit such as tongues. The main exclusivist Australian denomination is Revival Centres International from which there have emerged several splinter groups. A number of Pentecostal denominations/churches derive from more recent revival movements. The latter rain or Restorationist movement arose in Canada in 1948 with teaching based on Joel 2.28 that there would be a mighty outpouring of the Spirit immediately before the return of Christ. The main Australian representative denomination is Associated Christian Fellowships of Australia, which was founded by a visiting US missionary in 1950. However, unlike other Restorationists, ACFA teaches that the outpouring of the Sprit is still to happen. In the 1970’s the Word-Faith movement arose associated with tele-evangelist figures such as Kenneth Copeland and Kenneth Hagin. Word-Faith is a kind of New Age Pentecostalism preaching a prosperity gospel. The main teaching is the power of positive confession bringing into existence whatever is spoken in the mouth. Whatever one demands of God, provided demands are made positively and without wavering, God is required to answer. Benny Hinn is another well known contemporary Word-Faith figure, and, to highlight the international character of this movement, so too is Paul Yonggi Cho, pastor of the world’s largest church, the claimed 850,000 strong Yoido Full Gospel Church in Seoul, South Korea. In the early 1980s, the Vineyard movement began under the leadership of John Wimber in evangelical churches in California and then expanded to include a variety of churches associated with the Kansas prophets who also began at this time. The Vineyard movement is pragmatic in its theological approach, which stresses subjective experience above theological reflection if it works it’s from God. It also stresses spiritual warfare, teaching that Christian can be possessed by demons making the practice of exorcism a regular event. The movement also practices inner healing, which uses psychotherapeutic techniques such as memory regression, to remove negative memories of hurts caused by others in early childhood. The Vineyard movement, like the Word-Faith movement, encourages prosperity gospel teachings. In Australia, the Vineyard movement is represented by the Association of Vineyard Churches (Australia). Rodney Howard-Browne is another international preacher associated with the Vineyard and Word-Faith movements and introduced the famous Toronto Blessing at the Toronto Airport Vineyard Church in January 1994. Howard-Browne has regularly visited Australia and has a TV program also shown in this country, mostly on community TV and on the pay TV Australian Christian Channel. Howard-Browne’s Revival Ministries International is a non-denominational organisation with a global outreach.
The Vineyard movement began in evangelical not Pentecostal churches, recalling another Pentecostal movement, the Charismatics or Neo-Pentecostals, a movement found in mainstream non-Pentecostal denominations such as the Roman Catholic Church. The movement began in 1960, in Van Nuys California, at St Marks Episcopal Church and by 1970 had spread to all the main Protestant denominations. A similar movement began in the Roman Catholic Church at Duquesne University, Pittsburgh in 1967. Today, recognised by the Vatican, the International Catholic Charismatic Renewal Services is based in Rome to support local Catholic Charismatic Renewal groups around the world and to liaise with the Vatican on the movement. Unlike the Vineyard movement, therefore, Neo-Pentecostalism has not lead to the establishment of new denominations. Nevertheless, the Vineyard churches are more prepared to work ecumenically, especially with Roman Catholics, than many traditional Pentecostal or evangelical denominations, many of whom do not recognise Roman Catholics or their church as Christian at all.
The Pentecostal movement has also tended towards end times theology. The manifestations of glossolalia and other ‘fruits of the Spirit’ have been seen by many as signs heralding the end of the age. Most Pentecostal denominations are pre-millennial, looking forward to the Second Coming of Christ, and the Thousand-Year Reign. Most also subscribe to some form of Rapture belief whereby there is a secret visitation of Christ to take away all true Christians as part of the drama of the final struggle with the Anti-Christ. As with other Christians holding Rapture beliefs, disagreements exist as to the timing of the Rapture vis-a-vis the Tribulation, the rule of the Anti-Christ and associated global catastrophes punishing unbelieving humanity. Most Rapture believers, Pentecostal otherwise, hold to belief in it as a pre-tribulation event. Others support a mid-tribulation Rapture and a third (unsurprisingly) smaller group believe in a post-tribulation Rapture. In the past, end times theology has caused many conservative Christian groups to stay out of politics. However, in the US the so-called ‘culture wars’ together with a heightened expectation of the imminent end of the world has led many conservative Christian groups to engage quite vigorously with contemporary politics. This development is no doubt behind the formation of the Family First Party by Assemblies of God Australia. However, end times theology is not subscribed to by all conservative Christians or all Pentecostals. In the US, many evangelicals now subscribe to Dominionist theology. Dominionism emerged in the last 30 years and does not believe in the imminent end of the world. Instead it comes out of postmillennial thinking which holds that the world will eventually be Christianized resulting in the eventual return of Christ. Dominionism believes in promoting the rule of the Church (i.e. of an evangelical Protestant variety) believing that Jesus will not return until the Church takes control of government and society. Most radically, Dominionism believes that it is necessary for society to be governed by the laws of the Old Testament. Unsurprisingly, Dominionist Christians have been very active in support of the Bush regime in the US and are strong allies of the neo-conservatives. Most Pentecostals would reject Dominionism on account of its postmillennial stance. However, the Vineyard movement stands out for being more postmillennialist than premillennialist and thus more open to Dominionist thinking.
It is clear that Pentecostalism is an important but very diverse phenomenon in Christianity. Pentecostal diversity, expressed in a bewildering variety of groups, denominations and movements, is indicative of a movement in which personal subjective experience stands at the forefront of its teaching. It should come as no surprise that in the last ten years lesbigaytrans affirming Pentecostal churches have formed in the US. If, early in their history, a substantial minority of Pentecostals could reject the trinitarian orthodoxy underpinning most varieties of Christianity on the basis of such an experiential approach then a move to affirm LGBT people should come as no surprise, particularly as Pentecostalism has given women a much more prominent role in ministry and leadership than in other non-Pentecostal denominations. Thus, despite its conservative appearance, can be quite innovative and adaptable. It is because of that fact that many non-Pentecostal denominations regard the movement as suspect and giving rise to heresy. Many conservative evangelical churches would regard the entire Pentecostal movement as seriously heretical. The establishment of the Family First Party by the Assemblies of God is, however, something to be viewed with concern, not least because of the denials by both party and church of their obvious link to each other. But I think Family First is likely to be a passing phenomenon particularly since the Howard gov’t got control of the Senate in its own right. Consequently, Family First is unable to play any important role in the new Senate and thus win media attention to itself. I am more concerned about the growing links between churches like Hillsong and the Liberal Party, which could set the Liberals down a path like that traveled by the Republicans in the US, now dominated by a plethora of forces of the Religious Right. Nevertheless it would be foolish to demonize Pentecostalism or to regard it in simplistic one-dimensional ways. Pentecostal studies is a growing area in the Academy and there is slowly emerging a Pentecostal feminism. Just as there are social justice evangelicals appalled at what the US religious right has become and the harm it has done to evangelical Christianity, so it is possible that a social justice Pentecostalism might emerge in response to any linking of church and conservative political party.
BIOGRAPHICAL NOTE: Michael Carden has had many years of involvement in Gay/Lesbian and HIV/AIDS community organisations in Brisbane. He considers himself a fringe Catholic with anarchist tendencies. He received his PhD in 2002 from The University of Queensland. His dissertation was a study of the reception of the stories of Sodom and Gomorrah and the outrage at Gibeah in both Christian and Jewish traditions up to the Reformation. Michael has taught in the area of biblical studies and comparative religion at Queensland University and introduced a course there on Religion and Sexuality. He is also interested in astrology and kabbalah and the insights they provide both for reading biblical texts and elucidating the Abrahamic religions.
He has published a number of essays on Bible, sexuality and religion,
including contributions to the anthologies Queer Commentary and the Hebrew Bible (2001), Redirected Travel: Alternative Texts, Readings and Spaces in Biblical Studies (2003) and Popular Spiritualities: The Politics of Contemporary Enchantment (forthcoming 2004). Michael is also a contributor to the internationally collaborative queer Bible commentary project, The Bible in Translesbigay Perspective (forthcoming 2005). His book, Sodomy: The History of a Christian Biblical Myth, was published by Equinox Publications late 2004 and will be available in Australia in February this
year. Details of the book can be found at the publishers’ website. Michael is currently interested in the figure of the Virgin Mary in both Christianity and Islam and the possible connections to Jewish traditions concerning Sarah and the queer and feminist possibilities of the Virgin Mother motif.