Many people have heard of Pentecostal churches but don’t know a lot about their beliefs, values, or how they differ from other Christian traditions. Do Pentecostals have the same beliefs about God, the Bible, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit as other Christians? Do they have the same personal and social values as other Christians?
A Pentecostal church consists of like-minded Christians who meet together to worship God, learn from the Bible, and develop edifying relationships. “Pentecostal” describes a type of Protestant theology that emphasizes baptism in the Holy Spirit, speaking in tongues, and the use of miraculous spiritual gifts.
What is a “Pentecostal” denomination? What is the largest Pentecostal denomination? What do Pentecostal churches believe that is the same as other Christians? What do they believe that’s different? What are the similarities and differences between “Pentecostal’ and “Evangelical” Christians? Keep reading to learn the answers to these questions and more.
Also see Do Pentecostals Drink Alcohol? to learn more.
What is “Pentecostal” a denomination?
Although some churches have the word “Pentecostal” in their name, there isn’t a historic denomination that encompasses all Pentecostal believers that is akin to, for example, Lutheranism, Presbyterianism, or Methodism. However, certain denominations are Pentecostal in their theological convictions.
What is the largest Pentecostal denomination? The Assemblies of God is the largest Pentecostal denomination in the world and it’s one of the largest Protestant denominations as well. The three largest Pentecostal denominations are:
- Assemblies of God
- Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee)
- Church of God in Christ
Are Pentecostals members of other denominations? Christians with Pentecostal convictions are members of other traditions, though it’s more common for them to attend an Assemblies of God or other like-minded Pentecostal church.
Some traditions have a history of rejecting Pentecostal theology, like many Reformed denominations. Others have a history of welcoming Pentecostal Christians like the Methodist tradition as well as some Baptist churches. (Also see Do Pentecostals Believe in the Trinity?)
What do Pentecostal churches believe?
Pentecostal churches have the same core convictions that all Protestants hold. Pentecostalism doesn’t exist outside of the Protestant tradition, but inside it. Most Pentecostal traditions, including the Assemblies of God, identify as evangelical Christians and have been accepted by the wider evangelical community for decades.
Pentecostals firmly hold all core tenets of orthodox biblical Christianity, including:
- God is a Trinity: There is one God; the Father, Son (Jesus Christ), and Holy Spirit are each God
- The Bible is inspired: God guided the words of biblical authors, which makes Scripture authoritative for articulating doctrine and establishes values and norms for Christian behavior
- People are born sinners: Pentecostals affirm that all people are born in sin and separated from God
- Christ died for sinners: Christ made atonement for sin by dying on a cross; in his sacrifice he took the place of sinners and paid the price for their rebellion
- Christ will return to Earth: Like all other Christians, Pentecostals believe that Christ will fulfill his promise of coming back to reward the faithful and judge the unrepentant
Pentecostals firmly hold to certain secondary doctrines as well, though they are important to the tradition, that distinguishes them from other Christians:
Baptism in the Holy Spirit: All Christians believe in baptism of the Holy Spirit. Most non-Pentecostal traditions teach that baptism in the Holy Spirit occurs at conversion. Pentecostal theology teaches that it occurs at an unspecified time after conversion and that believers should expect and seek the baptism.
“All believers are entitled to and should ardently expect and earnestly seek the promise of the Father, the baptism in the Holy Spirit and fire, according to the command of our Lord Jesus Christ. This was the normal experience of all in the early Christian Church. With it comes the enduement of power for life and service, the bestowment of the gifts and their uses in the work of the ministry.”Assemblies of God doctrinal statement
Speaking in tongues: Pentecostal theology teaches that speaking in tongues is the initial evidence that a person has been baptized in the Holy Spirit. (Also see the full article Do Pentecostals Speak in Tongues?)
Many historic Christian denominations teach that tongues is no longer an operational gift for the church today, but was only for use in the first century. Pentecostals believe that the biblical descriptions of speaking in the Bible should be considered normal behavior for all Christians in any era.
The baptism of believers in the Holy Spirit is witnessed by the initial physical sign of speaking with other tongues as the Spirit of God gives them utterance.Assemblies of God doctrinal statement
Miraculous gifts: Many non-Pentecostal Christians believe that certain so-called “miraculous” gifts — like speaking in tongues, words of knowledge, miracles, and healings — were only to establish the church in the first century and not for its ongoing ministry.
According to this line of thinking, the miraculous gifts authenticated the ministry of the Apostles. Pentecostalism teaches that miraculous gifts are for all eras of the church.
Divine healing is an integral part of the gospel. Deliverance from sickness is provided for in the atonement, and is the privilege of all believers.Assemblies of God doctrinal statement
Also see the full article Do Pentecostals Believe Jesus Is God?
Pentecostal and evangelical Christianity comparison chart
Most Pentecostals are evangelicals, but not all evangelicals are Pentecostals. Because of the similarities in the terms, the chart below contains overlap, but the differences are easier to see in such a format.
|Origin||Historians conventionally date the origin of the modern Pentecostal movement to the Azusa Street Revival in Los Angeles, California in 1906. Many Pentecostals date their origin to the second chapter of Acts in the New Testament.||The modern use of the term originated in the 20th century. It’s distinguished from liberalism and fundamentalist movements. Fundamentalism has similar theology to evangelicalism because both movements have a high view of Scripture.|
|Meaning of the name||The word “Pentecostal” comes from the word “Pentecost,” which describes the unique and powerful outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the early church, as recorded in Acts 2.||The word “evangelical” comes from the Greek word euangelion meaning “gospel” or “good news.” The term describes a gospel-centered or cross-centered worldview.|
|Branch of Christianity||Pentecostalism is Protestant. Many of the ideas it embraces are rooted in the Protestant Reformation, led by Martin Luther of Germany, Ulrich Zwingli of Switzerland, and John Calvin of France.||Evangelical is also Protestant and traces its roots to the New Testament via the Protestant Reformation.|
|Early influencers||William J. Seymour (1870-1922), Agnes Ozman (1870-1937), Charles Parham (1873-1939)||English preacher Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892), American preacher Dwight L. Moody (1837-1899), many others|
|Significant writing outside the Bible||Pentecostalism doesn’t have any literature that is unique to its tradition that is of great significance to the establishment and definition of the movement. It generally values the classic literary works of Protestantism.||Evangelicalism values the same writing important to Protestantism in general, including the numerous works from a variety of denominations that emphasize a gospel-centered approach to evangelism, missions, biblical interpretation, and more.|
|Organization||Pentecostalism isn’t a denomination, but a belief system that certain denominations hold.||Evangelicalism isn’t a denomination but a movement consisting of numerous denominations and even non-denominational churches. Evangelical churches can have congregational, presbyterian, or episcopalian church government|
|What are the largest denominations in the tradition today?||The largest Pentecostal denomination is the Assemblies of God. Pentecostal churches tend to be congregational in their church government.||Churches in any denomination can be called “evangelical” if they centralize the gospel and emphasize other characteristics of the movement, such as valuing conversions and applying their faith through social causes like caring for the poor, widows, and orphans. The Southern Baptist Convention is the largest conservative denomination in Protestantism today.|
|Divisions||The Assemblies of God has many similarities with other Pentecostal denominations, like the Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee). Disagreements between Pentecostals often include the doctrine of perfectionism.||There is significant diversity within evangelical Christianity. Evangelical churches can have different theologies (though they are mostly Protestant), organizational models, and convictions on social issues.|
|Theological and social worldview||Pentecostal denominations and churches tend to be conservative theologically and in relation to social issues.||Historically, evangelical churches are conservative theologically and socially; in recent years, some self-identifying evangelical churches have drifted from conservative theology and adopted modern social values on a variety of issues|
Assemblies of God doctrinal statement
The doctrinal statement of the Assemblies of God denomination is a trustworthy representation of the beliefs taught in Pentecostal churches. The denomination’s statement is called “The 16 Fundamental Truths,” which are as follows:
- The Scriptures Inspired
- The One True God
- The Deity of the Lord Jesus Christ
- The Fall of Man
- The Salvation of Man
- The Ordinances of the Church
- The Baptism in the Holy Spirit
- The Initial Physical Evidence of the Baptism in the Holy Spirit
- The Church and its Mission
- The Ministry
- Divine Healing
- The Blessed Hope
- The Millennial Reign of Christ
- The Final Judgment
- The New Heavens and the New Earth
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