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What Is Pentecostal Theology?

Pentecostal theology is a vibrant Christian movement emphasizing personal faith experiences and the active work of the Holy Spirit, such as speaking in tongues and divine healing. It's rooted in the belief that the gifts of the Holy Spirit are available to believers today, just as they were in the early Church. How might these practices shape one's spiritual life?
Dan Harkins
Dan Harkins

The Pentecostal Church was founded at the start of the 20th century as part of the conservative "Holiness" movement in the Methodist Church. Also known as the Apostolic Church, Pentecostal theology focuses on experiencing the actual "Holy Ghost" of Jesus Christ in this life, in everyday experiences. Many who follow a Pentecostal theology are particularly centered on the subject of grace and living a life free of sin. Widely considered to be among the more conservative of mainline Protestant divisions, the characteristics that set this church apart the most are its charismatic approach, which includes the practice of Glossolalia, or speaking in tongues, and even more boisterous displays of faith-laden emotion.

More than 250,000,000 people worldwide consider themselves Pentecostal at the beginning of the 21st century. The church's literalist approach to biblical stories, and often its dogma and practices, closely mirror another movement called Charismatic Christianity. When those who consider themselves Charistmatic Christians are added to the global total for Pentecostals, 500,000,000 Christians can be said to subscribe to Pentecostal theology.

Pentecostal theology began as a Bible study group in Topeka, Kansas.
Pentecostal theology began as a Bible study group in Topeka, Kansas.

In addition to speaking in tongues, Charismatic Pentecostals have been known to carry out far more obscure practices such as snake charming. These believers also have other roots strong in the Methodist Holiness Movement, which subscribes to living as sin-free a life as possible, according to strict and ancient biblical laws. Miracles, the existence of heaven and hell, and Creationism are common themes, as are the pursuit of grace, a personal relationship with the spirit of Jesus, and ritual baptism to form a closer bond with the divine.

Pentecostal Theology centers around the belief that one can experience the "Holy Ghost" of Jesus.
Pentecostal Theology centers around the belief that one can experience the "Holy Ghost" of Jesus.

Many point to 1915, to a single Los Angeles church at 312 Azusa Street, as the first place Pentecostal theology was applied in service. Founded by William Seymour, an African-American preacher and the son of slaves, the Apostolic Faith Mission was widely criticized in the press and by other mainline congregations at the time for its shaking prayer punctuated by the faithful speaking in tongues. As of 2011, Seymour's focus on actually feeling and expressing the Holy Spirit is Pentecostal theology's trademark.

Some Pentecostal theologists practice snake charming.
Some Pentecostal theologists practice snake charming.

According to the mission statement of the United Pentecostal Church International (UPCI), Pentacostal theology began in a Topeka, Kansas, Bible study group. This was just before Seymour started his ministry in Los Angeles. According to the UPCI, the church's devotees believed in a oneness of God, an Apostolic "pouring out" of prayer, doctrinal authority, and the quest for grace and holiness.

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    • Pentecostal theology began as a Bible study group in Topeka, Kansas.
      By: justinkendra
      Pentecostal theology began as a Bible study group in Topeka, Kansas.
    • Pentecostal Theology centers around the belief that one can experience the "Holy Ghost" of Jesus.
      By: GG Pro Photo
      Pentecostal Theology centers around the belief that one can experience the "Holy Ghost" of Jesus.
    • Some Pentecostal theologists practice snake charming.
      By: Taboga
      Some Pentecostal theologists practice snake charming.