Soundings

Pentecostalism: Healing ministry an important feature

Sep 2010    

THE ORIGIN OF PENTECOSTALISM is usually traced to Topeka, Kansas, where under the leadership of Charles Parham, a former Methodist preacher, a group of Christians experienced an outbreak of tongue-speaking in 1901.

In 1906, William J. Seymour, a black Holiness preacher and student of Parham, led a revival in an abandoned African Episcopalian church in downtown Los Angeles. The “Azusa Street Revival,” which lasted for three years (1906-1909), launched Pentecostalism as a worldwide movement. After World War II, Pentecostal churches grew exponentially in the United States, and according to The World Christian Encyclopedia, by 1980 Pentecostals have grown to be the largest Protestant denomination in the world.

The first Assemblies of God (AOG) church in Singapore was founded by the Rev and Mrs Cecil Jackson in 1928. The AOG is currently the largest Pentecostal body with more than 300,000 congregations in over 212 countries. From its humble beginnings, the AOG in Singapore grew steadily. Currently, there are 49 AOG churches, some of which, like Trinity Christian Centre, have thousands of members. It has also established the Assemblies of God Bible College to provide theological education and ministerial training to its ministers. In addition, the AOG in Singapore has set up a community services society that organises holistic programmes to reach out to troubled youths, families in crisis, and the elderly.

One of the most distinctive aspects of Pentecostal theology is the doctrine of the baptism of the Holy Spirit, which postulates the work of the Holy Spirit on the believer subsequent to conversion. Pentecostals generally maintain that the experience of the 120 disciples on the day of Pentecost recorded in Acts 2 was not just a unique event in history, but is normative for all Christians.

It was Charles Parham who defined baptism in the Holy Spirit as a crisis experience separate from conversion. Spirit baptism is the believer’s personal encounter with the Holy Spirit resulting in his equipment and empowerment for ministry (Acts 1:8). Pentecostals believe that this encounter will be accompanied by “signs and wonders” as evidence of the presence of God.

Pentecostals maintain that the ability to speak in tongues is the consequence and initial evidence of the baptism in the Holy Spirit. Although speaking in tongues had already appeared in some Christian assemblies in England and the United States in the 19th century, it was the Pentecostals who gave this practice special prominence and even doctrinal primacy.

The doctrine of tongue-speaking as the initial evidence of Spirit-baptism was crafted by Charles Parham himself in 1901. Since Spirit-baptism is normative for Christians, all believers must also have the ability to speak in tongues. However, some Pentecostal scholars have challenged this teaching. For example, the noted New Testament scholar and minister of the Assemblies of God, Gordon Fee, has argued that speaking in tongues cannot be seen as normative for the believer, since spiritual gifts are freely endowed by the sovereign Spirit of God.

Pentecostals believe that the preaching of the Gospel is often accompanied by “signs and wonders”, especially miraculous healing. Indeed the ministry of healing plays a prominent role in Pentecostal churches throughout the world, and, according to some scholars, it is one of the features that attract people to these churches. For Pentecostals, healing and other miraculous signs point to the presence and the victory of Christ. e presence of these miraculous signs testifies to the unfolding of the kingdom of God that has been inaugurated by Jesus Christ. Pentecostals believe that the “signs and wonders” that the pages of the book of Acts report still occur today by the power of God’s Spirit, drawing unbelievers to Christ.

Together with Supernatural healing, exorcism or deliverance from demons has also played a prominent role in the ministry of Pentecostal churches.

Pentecostals never doubted the reality of Satan or his demons, and their ability to bring about spiritual oppression. They see the “ministry of deliverance” to which some have been called as a continuation of the ministry of some of the leaders in the early Church.

Alongside the deliverance ministry, Pentecostals also engage in “spiritual warfare”, an intense prayer activity through which Christians engage directly with the demonic forces that seek to control individuals and communities.

IN 1960, PENTECOSTALISM entered a new phase as traditional churches in the United States embraced some of its teachings and emphases. Neo-Pentecostalism in America is often associated with Dennis Bennett, an Episcopalian priest. Bennett was forced to leave his parish in Van Nuys for introducing Pentecostal worship. He moved to Seattle, Washington, which later became the centre of neo-Pentecostalism in the north-western United States. is new form of Pentecostalism spread to other denominations in the United States and other countries.

In 1966, Pentecostalism entered the Roman Catholic Church in the United States as the result of a weekend retreat in Duquesne University where participants spoke in tongues and experienced other spiritual gifts. To distinguish between the old and new Pentecostalism, the term “charismatic” was used at around 1973.

In recent years, the Pentecostal Church has produced a number of important theologians whose hard and fruitful labours have resulted in mature theological reflection on the Pentecostal experience in conversation with wider Christian spirituality. Pentecostal theology has been able to take the vision of the early stalwarts of the movement seriously as well as engage with the traditional paradigms of theology and the pressing challenges posed by postmodernity.

Dr Roland Chia is Chew Hock Hin Professor of Christian Doctrine and Dean of Postgraduate Studies at Trinity Theological College. He worships at the Fairfield Preaching Point in Woodlands.

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