Bible and Community

The Bible in Pentecostal Practice

The various revivals at the beginning of the twentieth century started a wave of anticipation across the Christian world for a worldwide revival that had never been seen before, one that would result in unprecedented missionary activity across the globe. These are my central assumptions: (1) the Azusa Street revival in the United States and the Mukti revival in India were part of a wider series of revivals in the first decade of the twentieth century that facilitated the early promotion of pentecostal beliefs and values throughout the world; (2) missionary networks, especially that of the CMA, were instrumental in spreading Pentecostalism internationally; (3) pentecostal periodicals not only spread Pentecostalism but were the foundation of the meta-culture that arose and influenced all forms of Pentecostalism worldwide; and (4) these revivals were part of a series of formative events in the emergence of a new international missionary movement that took several years to develop a distinctive identity.

New forces were pushing for autonomy from Western colonial control, and these extended to the churches planted by Western missionaries, including pentecostal ones. These forces were aided by the propensity of the movement toward schism, its flexibility and adaptability in a variety of cultures, the political movements toward independence from colonialism, the liberation that Pentecostalism offered especially to women, the religious continuity between Pentecostalism and popular religion, and the social and economic forces that made its expansion outside the Western world inevitable. In this chapter, special attention is given to the Majority World’s discovery of the Bible, a source of authority independent of Western missionaries. Although we have explored the role of Western missionaries in the early expansion of Pentecostalism, they were hardly the driving force for long. The hegemony of Western missionaries ceased early on.

The Bible, and pentecostal interpretations and uses of it, were of primary importance to the expansion of Pentecostalism in the global South. Walter Hollenweger dedicated his first tome, The Pentecostals, to the pen- tecostals who taught him “to love the Bible” and to the Presbyterians who taught him “to understand it.” His implied slighting of pentecostal biblical scholarship notwithstanding—although perhaps fair when he wrote it—Hollenweger knew that pentecostals were devoted to the Bible. In some cases, it was the only book they read. The first pentecostals always appealed to the Bible and their literal and pragmatic interpretation of it to justify their sometimes controversial practices. These justifications were often couched in fundamentalist language. Writing in 1926, AG leader Stanley Frodsham asserted:

There are thousands of Pentecostal assemblies on the earth today.

We have never known of a Modernist among them. All believe in the plenary verbal inspiration of the Bible. All teach repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and salvation from sin through the all-blotting-out blood of Jesus Christ. All believe there is healing through the stripes of the Crucified One... Everywhere a life of practical holiness is taught. All are looking for the near and pre-millennial coming of the Lord Jesus Christ and, needless to say, they all believe in receiving the Holy Ghost just as He was originally received on the Day of Pentecost.1

This belief in “plenary verbal inspiration” as the source of pentecostal teaching and practice still dominates global Pentecostalism today. In his second book on the subject of the worldwide shifts in Christianity, The New Faces of Christianity: Believing the Bible in the Global South, Philip Jenkins concentrates on the implications of the shifts in Christian demography for the teachings and practices of the Christian faith. As his subtitle suggests, one of the most significant factors in the growth of Christianity in the South has been the approach to “believing the Bible.” Jenkins points out that the interpretation of the Bible in the South is conditioned by the cultural contexts of agrarian, tribal, animistic, and economically impoverished communities. These conditions, Jenkins writes, are similar to those that prevailed in the ancient Near East, and therefore the Bible has a greater immediacy in the global South than it does in the prosperous West. All this makes “southern” understandings of the Bible very different from those found in the Western world.2

For many years, the primary objective of Protestant mission schools was to enable people to read the Bible in their own language. The translation of the Scriptures was often the first literature to appear in a local language. Great authority was given to the printed word and people were now able to compare the message of the missionaries with that of the Bible. They weren’t always in harmony. The Bible therefore became an independent source of authority. Soon, the missionaries were being criticized for not being biblical enough. Because of the authority given to the vernacular Bible in all areas of life, most pentecostals throughout the world interpreted it in a very literal and fundamentalist way. They saw practices or customs in the Bible closely resembling their own, and it seemed to them that the Bible was much more sympathetic to their own traditions than the missionaries had led them to believe. For example, despite the missionaries’ almost universal condemnation of polygamy, many biblical heroes were polygamists. The missionaries disapproved of ancestor veneration, but the long lists of ancestors in the Bible seemed to legitimate Africans’ concern that the “living-dead” continue to be honored. The new churches created in Africa in the early twentieth century used Bible verses to justify their practices and found new prohibitions there that were taken literally, from the Old Testament in particular. But for this reason, too, African churches often rejected witchcraft, magic, and ancestor veneration as means of solving problems. Western Protestant missionaries had also rejected these rituals, but for quite different reasons. Whereas their worldview saw these practices as “ignorant superstitions” to be systematically obliterated by education, Africans saw them as real social problems that were manifestations of evil spirits and sorcery, and they proclaimed a more radical solution. In this they appealed to the Bible, and created what Hastings suggested amounted to “a sort of biblical-African alliance” against the more rationalistic and inflexible Western Christianity. In the vernacular Bible, Africans had an independent source of authority abounding in symbolic healing practices and exorcisms not unlike their own. In short, the Bible seemed to lend much more support to traditional African customs than to the imported cultural customs of the European missionaries.3

Pentecostalism as a whole also identifies its beliefs with the biblical worldviews. It becomes therefore an attractive option for those most in sympathy with a supernatural worldview. The biblical literalism found in pentecostal churches is consistent with their roots in holiness, healing, and other radical evangelical and revivalist movements. Pentecostal missionaries all used the Bible to justify everything they did and believed in, but they also pointed to a God who continued to do the things God did in the Bible’s pages. These things—miracles, healings, deliverance from evil spirits, prophecy, and speaking in tongues—all reminded their hearers of the needs addressed by their traditional and oral religions, but the pentecostal missionaries’ claims seemed more powerful in meeting those needs. Furthermore, it took neither great learning nor a foreign missionary to demonstrate a present, intervening God—women and men in whom the Spirit had come could do the things that Jesus, Peter, or Paul had done. And so they went out and did them, and their message attracted greater numbers of their own people.

Pentecostals usually interpret the Bible through a “plain reading” that makes use primarily of the normal or customary understanding of the literal words, and most use a vernacular translation in so doing. Of course, “plain reading” does not always lead to uniform understandings, and pentecostals attach multiple meanings to the same texts depending on their own contexts. Lamin Sanneh has pointed out the significance of Bible translations for local people’s enthusiastic discovery of Christianity. The adoption of local names for God, for example, “opened the way for indigenous innovation and motivation in the religious life,” and the translations “helped to bring about a historic shift... by pioneering a strategic alliance with local conceptions of religion.” This was preeminently the case with pentecostals, who use a precritical method of reading the Bible, common to all ordinary readers in the world who have not been trained in critical methods. This is not necessarily a disadvantage or a slavish literalism— the Bible is usually applied to a real-life community and situation. Local pentecostal missionaries and evangelists, armed with the powerful tool of their vernacular Bibles, were able to present a biblical message that spoke both attractively and effectively to the contexts of their compatriots. However, this approach to the Bible is drawn through the filter of personal experience; and pentecostal preachers have an uncanny ability to relate biblical narratives to real-life situations. In Latin America, prior to Vatican II, the laity were discouraged and even prohibited by the Catholic Church from possessing and reading the Bible. But pentecostals make it a priority for converts to own and read the Bible for themselves, empowering common people (and especially women).4

In common with conservative evangelicals and fundamentalists, pentecostals have a high view of the Bible (usually referred to as “the Word of God”), which is understood as fully authoritative and is taken literally. All pentecostal teaching is based directly or indirectly on biblical texts, and these are everywhere accepted in a precritical sense. Importantly, however, pentecostals do differ from fundamentalists in that the text does not have authority in itself—rather, it is the Bible as interpreted by the inner working of the Spirit that is authoritative. As one early pentecostal writer put it, “The Spirit works with and through the Word If [we] neglect the reverent study of Scripture, we cut ourselves off from the very vehicle through which God’s Spirit enters human spirit.” British biblical scholar Andrew Davies points out that for pentecostals, the Bible is read not only for the knowledge it conveys “but to meet God in the text, and to provide an opportunity for the Holy Spirit to speak to our spirits.” Pentecostals rely on direct revelation from the Spirit in addition to biblical sanction—and sometimes, revelation replaces text as a direct authority. In pentecostal history, revelation and personal experience were almost always measured by reference to the Bible as the final arbiter in questionable practices. Thus pentecostals have two reciprocal sources of authority held in tension: reading the Bible affects praxis, and the experiences that follow influence the understanding of the Bible. In his book Pentecostal Spirituality, Church of God theologian Steven Land argues consistently that “Pentecostalism cannot and should not be simply identified with a rationalist or scholastic type of evangelicalism.” He points out that “Protestant fundamentalist scholasticism has so subjugated Spirit to the Scriptures that the only significant function of the Spirit is to witness to the Bible which is interpreted by human reason.” On the contrary, as Pentecostal Holiness leader G. F. Taylor put it in 1920, Spirit baptism “is a key to many portions of the Word To properly comprehend this truth is to find a key that will unlock many obscure passages of the Word.” Or as AG leader D. W. Kerr said,

The words of Scripture are holy things, but we may become so enslaved to the mere letter of scripture that the life and spirit of the words have no longer any life-giving power in us nor through us... The Holy Spirit, as we are being filled with Him, will illuminate our whole being with light... the living Word dwelling in us, will so illuminate the written Word as we read it, that all things will be as clear and plain to our understanding, as they were to those who wrote them.5

Davies argues that despite the apparent dogmatism of pentecostals, the experiential focus of pentecostal worship means that the Bible is interpreted through a spiritual encounter rather than by a literal exegesis. Archer shows that the “narrative criticism” used by pentecostal communities in interpreting the Bible is “story telling,” by which “the Bible is not reduced to propositions but instead functions as it was intended to—as stories that grip and shape the readers while challenging them to infer from the narrative a praxis-orientated theology.”6

Although the vernacular Bible played such a prominent role in the expansion of Pentecostalism, it was only as its message was contextualized and understood by its hearers that it took hold. As Sanneh points out, Christianity (and therefore Pentecostalism) is a translated, intercultural, and adaptable religion; and the only way that it can be communicated to people is through the medium of their own language and culture. Pentecostalism thus becomes a local religion and takes on the context of its followers, not only in the way that they understand the text, but also in their appropriation of language and cultural symbols in their worship—in fact, in the totality of their experience. The Argentinean Catholic theologian Severino Croatto lists three factors that affect the way people understand the Bible. He points out that in addition to the “privileged locus” of “the interpretation of texts” (the first aspect), hermeneutics must also take into account that “all interpreters condition their reading of a text by a kind of preunderstanding arising from their own life context” (the second aspect), and that third, “the interpreter enlarges the meaning of the text being interpreted” (italics in original). Ordinary pentecostals are not really interested in the first aspect, but they inevitably enlarge the meaning of the Bible for themselves out of their own contexts. In general, and despite the recent scholarly associations for pentecostal studies and pentecostal biblical scholars aplenty, pentecostals worldwide do not usually have a sophisticated articulation of theological beliefs. Their understanding of the Bible is conditioned by their presuppositions arising out of real-life situations and their perception of how the Bible speaks in these contexts, which inevitably enlarges its meaning for them.7

This is why pentecostal preaching is often filled with personal narratives and testimonies that are related to the text that is read. At a grassroots level the personal testimony becomes the primary tool for evangelization; believers tell their stories of conversion and healing in order to persuade others to become believers. The relating of testimonies is still a prominent feature of many pentecostal church services. Another Latin American scholar, Carlos Mesters, writes that when the “common people” read the Bible a “dislocation” occurs and “emphasis is not placed on the text’s meaning in itself but rather on the meaning the text has for the people reading it.” Although Mesters refers to the “base communities” in the Catholic Church, in many parts of the world (including Latin America) pentecostals have run “base communities” for a century, minorities of people protesting against marginalization and oppression often engineered in the name of the state. Pentecostals have a “concordistic” approach to the Bible: they take the Bible as it is and look for common ground in real-life situations. On finding these “correspondences” they believe that God is speaking to them personally. As pentecostal scholar Kenneth Archer puts it, pentecostals “re-experienced” the biblical text by removing it from its original context and placing it within their own, thereby giving the text new meaning.8

The Bible in the Majority World

The connection between the Bible and everyday life lies at the heart of the appeal of the pentecostal message. This can be illustrated by reference to Africa, where, in keeping with the strong sense of community, members of pentecostal and independent churches usually hear the Bible being read in the community of the local church, and during celebrations of communal worship, where it is often directly related to real problems encountered by that community. This interpretation of the Bible as it is prayed, sung, testified, danced, and preached in worship services implies a hermeneutics from the underside of society, where ordinary people, like the people Mesters describes in the base Christian communities of Brazil, have “found the key and are beginning again to interpret the Bible... using the only tool they have at hand: their own lives, experiences, and struggles.” The experience of the Spirit common to pentecostals means that the Bible is used to explain the working of the Holy Spirit in the church with supernatural “gifts of the Spirit,” especially healing, exorcism, speaking in tongues, and prophesying. There are many differences among the various pentecostal churches in the practice of these gifts because of their different understanding of the same texts. A reciprocal relationship between the Bible and the Spirit occurs: not only does the Bible explain the experience of the Spirit but, perhaps more important for pentecostals, the Spirit enables people to better understand the Bible. The experience of the Spirit becomes a self-authenticating key in the hermeneutical process. Anglican charismatic John McKay explains that when pentecostals make choices and decisions the “conviction of their essential rightness is based on revelatory experience, the confirmation of the Word, and their own corresponding faith, not on experimental investigation or argument, and consequently is much more absolute.”9

One major attraction of Pentecostalism for people in the Majority World is that, probably above all other considerations, pentecostal churches give biblical answers for “this worldly” needs that prevail in poor societies, like sickness, poverty, hunger, oppression, unemployment, loneliness, evil spirits, and sorcery. In any given pentecostal congregation one will discover testimonies of healings, deliverance from evil powers, the restoration of broken relationships, success in work or business ventures, and other needs that were met, usually through what was seen as the supernatural intervention of God through his Spirit—including the use of agents of the Spirit like evangelists, prophets, and other gifted church leaders. These experiences will usually be backed up by scriptural support. The Bible thus becomes a source book of supernatural answers to human needs. But because of the subjective ways in which it is understood, in some pentecostal and independent churches the Bible is used as a rationale for practices that other Christians would not consider biblical. However, the fact that people are contextualizing the Bible themselves is significant. Among many African independent churches there is real appreciation for the “African-ness” of their understanding of the Bible—and because these churches are founded and led by Africans who have read and interpreted the Bible for themselves, they are seen as specifically geared to fulfill African aspirations and meet African needs. Most pentecostals also read the Bible literally as an ethical rule book, and because of this have rigid opinions on matters like total abstention from alcohol and tobacco, abortion, homosexuality, and divorce; some pentecostals even have rules against eating pork, using cosmetics and jewelry, and especially in prescribing what clothes women should and should not wear. All these legalistic taboos are justified by referring to the Bible.

On a more positive note, in much of the Majority World the Bible is interpreted to include all of life’s problems, which has particular relevance in societies where disease is rife and access to adequate health care is a luxury. The prevalence of sickness and affliction therefore becomes a hermeneutical key with which the Bible is unlocked. “Salvation” becomes an all-embracing term, usually meaning a sense of well-being evidenced in freedom from sickness, poverty, and misfortune as well as in deliverance from sin and evil. Healing is seen as an essential part of the biblical revelation, and to support this, reference is made to Old Testament prophets, Christ himself, and New Testament apostles who practiced healing. In many independent Spirit churches in Africa, the healing offered to people sometimes relies heavily upon symbols, especially sprinkling by holy water, a sacrament in many churches providing ritual purification and protection. In most other pentecostal churches, the emphasis is on the laying on of hands with prayer, but anointing oil is also used as a symbol of the Holy Spirit. Symbolic healing practices are also referred back to the Bible, where Jesus used mud and spittle to heal a blind man, Peter used cloths to heal the sick, and Old Testament prophets used staffs, water, and various other symbols to perform healings and miracles. Salvation is understood as deliverance from the evil forces aligned against people. The methods used to receive this salvation and the perceptions concerning the means of grace sometimes differed, but the Bible is believed to reveal an omnipotent and compassionate God concerned with all the troubles of humankind. Bishops, prophets, ministers, evangelists, and ordinary church members exercise the authority that has been given them by the God of the Bible reinforced by the power of the Spirit to announce the good news that there is deliverance from sin, from sickness and barrenness, and from every conceivable form of evil, including oppression, unemployment, poverty, and sorcery.

Any discussion of the Bible in Pentecostalism must also consider the emergence of prophets, especially in Africa, where they are seen as continuing in the biblical prophetic tradition and providing an innovative alternative to traditional diviners. Their pronouncements are accepted as revelations from God, but they are not usually accorded the authority of Scripture. The prophets are the ones to whom God’s will is revealed and through whom God’s power is manifested. The Spirit gives the prophets the power to heal sickness and overcome evil. This understanding of the present dynamic of the Holy Spirit, common to pentecostals everywhere, presupposes that there is a personal and omnipotent power that bears witness to the word of God. In this regard, prophets demonstrate Croatto’s third aspect of interpretation by enlarging the meaning of the biblical text. Prophetic practices must not only deal with the results of evil; they must also reveal and remove its cause. For this reason, church members consult prophets in a way similar to the consultation of traditional diviners. Sometimes the revelation of the cause is by itself sufficient to guarantee a solution to the problem and the supplicant is satisfied. Diagnostic prophecy is the most common form of prophecy in most Spirit churches in Africa, for the overriding concern of the prophets is with the context of evil and suffering. Their revelations become one of the major attractions for outsiders.

Prophecy often becomes an extremely effective form of pastoral therapy and counsel, mostly practiced in private—sometimes a moral corrective when it identifies wrongdoing, and often an indispensable facet of Christian ministry. It can become an expression of care and concern for the needy; and in some cases, might actually bring relief. Prophetic healing therapy in African churches should not simply be equated with pre-Christian healing and divination practices. The many parallels between the forms of the old practices and those of the new prophetic ones do not mean that the content of prophecy is the same. The parallels are often the very features that make prophetic healing rituals so significant to so many people. The similarities are sometimes the greatest strengths for people seeking meaningful solutions to their problems, for whom prophetic healing practices represent both a Christian and an African approach to the problem of pain and suffering. As revealers of God’s will from the Scriptures and dispensers of God’s power through the Spirit to meet human needs, African prophets become agents of salvation. The Spirit gives revelations and the ability to overcome many African problems, which brings salvation from pain, fear, and suffering for many people. Of course, human error is inevitable in healing practices. In many pentecostal healing services, sick people often go away unhealed, and so-called miracles are claimed which eventually prove to be no miracles at all.10

Without doubt, the Bible plays a very important, although not an exclusive role, in pentecostal practice worldwide, and pentecostals see the Bible as their ultimate authority for faith, practice, and ethics. Preaching is a very important function of pentecostal liturgy, and this must also be seen to be based solidly on the Bible. So the sermon usually begins with a reading from the Bible and is often interspersed by phrases like “the Bible says” to reinforce the message. Although preachers often stray a long way from the biblical passage, preach in an anecdotal fashion, and sometimes do not make a conscious effort to explain the Bible at all, the Bible is given pride of place. The interpretation of the text is conditioned by the context and for a disadvantaged people, preaching often centers on salvation here and now, and on material security that offers health, wealth, and influence in community and public affairs. Through the Bible people learn about God and discover the means by which God speaks today. The Bible provides the basis and the conditions for living, and those who follow its instructions will be enabled to overcome all kinds of difficulties, in this life especially. In some cases, it is not the Bible alone but those charismatic leaders who interpret it correctly and declare this interpretation to the faithful who have ultimate authority. But even when it is interpreted for the ordinary members by leaders, the authority of the Bible itself is never questioned. Preaching must always be founded on what the Bible says, either directly or implicitly. In the formerly colonized world, African, Asian, and Latin American people themselves, without the help of Western missionaries (who represent former colonial powers), have discovered in the Bible their own freedom from oppression. They have discovered that, contrary to previous assumptions, the Bible does provide answers to questions that ordinary people are asking. The translation of the Bible into the vernacular has brought about a discovery of its relevance, its applicability to human aspirations and needs, and its bearing on issues that were often left unaddressed or inadequately attended to by traditional religions and older forms of Christianity.

Education and Bible Schools

Western pentecostal congregations sent out missionaries to various parts of the world in the early twentieth century, or gathered independent missionaries already in the “field” under their wings. Even though there was a rather chaotic flurry of mission activity in early Pentecostalism, these missionaries did not just appear miraculously. They went through a process of calling from many different walks of life, preparation, training (in some cases), sending, and learning before they actually began the work that they believed they had been called to do. In most cases these missionaries led the advance of Pentecostalism, but things rapidly changed. By the late twentieth century, many of the denominations established by missionaries had local leadership. In some cases, like that of the Assemblies of God in Brazil and the Apostolic Church in West Africa, the churches planted by Western missionaries and developed by local leaders grew many times larger than the Western denomination itself. In some cases, like that of the Zion Christian Church in South Africa, the Church of Pentecost in Ghana, the Indian Pentecostal Church, and the Methodist Pentecostal Church in Chile, among others—schisms from missionary-planted churches resulted in much greater growth. Protestant mission history has many examples of churches that expanded much more rapidly when the foreign missionaries departed.

The focus on training indigenous leadership came out of the pentecostals’ background in evangelical missions, where training “native workers” was a principle long advocated. Pentecostals began to see the need to train talented local people. A pentecostal missionary in Egypt from Azusa Street, A. H. Post, wrote that the Spirit baptism of Egyptian workers for active service was one of the most encouraging signs of the mission there. He made a plea for the training and support of these workers, saying that because “they know the language and the customs and notions and ideas of the people... the right native man can win more souls to Christ than the American missionary can personally.” PMU missionary Ethel Cook wrote from Yunnan, China of “the pressing need for more workers—native helpers of established character especially—to preach amongst the different tribes Peoples.” As we have seen, W. W. Simpson established several Bible schools after his return to China in 1918 and his Truth Bible Institute in Beijing was a leading center for the training of Chinese pentecostal leaders. George Berg made training workers a priority in India, and even though he returned to the United States under a cloud of suspicion about his moral and financial integrity, his trained workers—some of whom assisted Robert Cook and other foreign missionaries—were pillars in South Indian Pentecostalism. Cook established a Bible school in Kerala in 1922 that was committed to training Indian missionaries and sending them out to neighboring Indian states. “The great advantage of a native missionary,” he later wrote, “is that he knows the language and can thus give clear expression to his thoughts.” He went on, “He knows how to move with his people and accustom himself to the environments. He is at home in any village on tour and is also accustomed to the climatic conditions.”11

PMU leader Cecil Polhill, who was keen to implement a policy that would transfer the task of evangelization and church leadership to local people, published a significant article in 1917. He outlined an in-service training course for local church leaders in which these leaders would be gathered from local churches to a central place where they would be trained for two-week periods. He quoted from a CMS periodical to “emphasize the supreme fact that the natives themselves must be the chief factor in evangelization.” Every missionary should be “the means in God’s hands of sending out in a very short time numbers of well taught spiritual converts as missionaries to their own countrymen.” Polhill used further quotations to drive home his point about the “tremendous limitations” of “foreign evangelists” who are “makeshift.” The following was very important advice that, had it been followed for the rest of the twentieth century, might have made all the difference to the growth and maturity of national pentecostal churches:

All Christians ought to be missionaries; but in a most real sense the best missions are home missions... he is likely to do the least permanent good while it is he that controls the situation. So long as the native workers are his agents, his helpers, his nominees, the whole venture takes on a foreign aspect, Christianity itself appears as a foreign faith, and suffers under all the prejudice and suspicion which things foreign usually evoke The larger advance will come when we have discharged our function as foreign missionaries by establishing in the several non-Christian lands indigenous, self-propagating churches, and have committed to them—either with or without subordinate assistance from us—the completion of the work of evangelization.

Is not that day far nearer in not a few of our fields of work in Asia and Africa than we as yet commonly recognize? The Christians are reckoned by their thousands and tens of thousands. In nature and temperament they are far better qualified than we to present the message to their fellow countrymen. Intellectually they are often fully our equals. Spiritually the power that works in us is the power that works in them also. Have we had sufficient faith and courage to transfer to them the burden of responsibility and initiative, assured that as we do so the Holy Spirit of God will endue them with new love and wisdom, and supply to them that steadfast and keen initiative which we perhaps think they lack at present?12

These ideas did not catch on quickly in pentecostal denominations. Seldom did foreign missionaries consider Africans and Asians by temperament “far better qualified,” by intellect “fully our equals,” and having the same spiritual power. Expatriate missionaries continued to see themselves as the indispensable focus of the work and attempted to control local preachers, often with disastrous consequences. As a result, their entire mission ventures, as Polhill had warned, took on “a foreign aspect” and their converts became objects of suspicion and prejudice. Such attempts as were made to follow Polhill’s advice were few and far between. In the PMU, operating in southwest Yunnan, Chinese preachers were put in charge of stations; in fact, because most of the foreign PMU missionaries lived in two main “safe” centers, local preachers usually staffed the outstations. The PMU Council declared its commitment to providing for “a new supply of Chinese evangelists” because the ultimate goal of the mission was “to raise up men and women out of the natives to evangelize and carry on the work,” and “missionary work always fails unless it succeeds in reaching the natives to become workers.”13

It took a while, but with support from gentle agitators like Polhill and Alice Luce—and, in the field, such as W. W. Simpson in China, Robert Cook in India, Gerard Bailly in Venezuela, and J. O. Lehman in South Africa—gradually the idea grew that investment in “native workers” was more important than increasing the numbers of foreign ones. Unfortunately, attitudes and policies did not improve quickly. The AG, in its second Missionary Conference in Chicago in 1918, resolved to recommend that “the ordination of native workers be discouraged except where the matter can be arranged for and looked after by the proper committees on their respective fields and districts.” The reason for this draconian move was an instance of a “native” who had “attempted to assert authority over the missionary.” The same conference recommended that no money should be sent directly to “native workers on the field.” This distrust was perpetuated for decades thereafter.14

In their revivalist beginnings and conviction of the imminent return of Christ, pentecostals did not consider theological training of much importance, and most of their early preachers had little or none at all. Some of the first missionaries who went out were untrained and lacked financial backing from any organization. Most were without any theological or practical missionary training. Many believed their work should be continued until they died in the field (which many did) or until Jesus returned—whichever came first. The early pentecostals generally put priority on the calling and empowerment of the candidate rather than on age or education. As The Latter Rain Evangel put it in 1911, many of those pentecostal workers who had gone into the mission field “would never be accepted by boards, but God called them and they have obeyed Him.” In the words of one commentator, “it was generally agreed that the historic denominations had lost their spirituality in direct relationship to their emphasis on education.” Pentecostals were opposed to “an education that destroyed faith or reduced dependence on the Holy Spirit.” In my own experience, pentecostals would speak derisively of “theological cemeteries”; and it would take at least half a century before pentecostals began to have reputable higher education institutions. The emphasis in pentecostal leadership was on the spirituality of the leader rather than on intellectual abilities or ministerial skills. This was the legacy of the evangelical “Bible schools” and “missionary training schools” instituted in the late nineteenth century, which often provided no more than rudimentary short courses in Bible study where the Bible was the only textbook. Early pentecostals believed that God had called “persons of average ability” who had been baptized in the Holy Spirit and were specially called to “become soul-winners in foreign lands.” They were called from many different walks of life, and usually underwent preparation, sometimes training, sending, and learning, before they actually began the work.15

The first pentecostal training courses were generally of about eight months’ duration, after which trainees were sent out into the field. Early pentecostal conventions made one of their chief activities the motivation and recruitment of new missionaries. Earnest appeals were made for young people to offer themselves, citing great needs in these exotic foreign places and often stating how much the people there were looking forward to the arrival of Western missionaries. The motivation for these hundreds of mostly young people who offered themselves for “foreign service” was the spiritual needs of the “heathen” world. Levi Lupton, a prominent pentecostal leader until his fall from grace though marital difficulties in 1910, planned his new Missionary Faith Home in Alliance, Ohio, to be “from one to three years careful, practical training, and real study of the Word of God.” In Rochester, New York, Elizabeth Baker and her four sisters founded the Rochester Bible Training School in 1906 just before they became pentecostal. This school closed in 1924 to make way for Elim Bible Institute, but had a two-year program with a strong missionary emphasis, and fifty graduates became overseas missionaries. The great majority of graduates were women. These were the first significant American pentecostal centers for the training and sending out of missionaries. Whatever few training schools were put in place by pentecostals followed similar aims and patterns of the more radical and rudimentary schools, with an emphasis on thrusting out workers into the “harvest fields” as soon as possible, for the Lord’s coming was near.16

Although Pentecostals were not as thoroughly immersed in Western theology and ideology as other missionaries were, they soon realized that if the Spirit had not given them the languages of the nations in which to preach their gospel they had better learn those languages themselves. So, great effort was put into language learning. By 1928 William Burton of the CEM had instituted a rule specifying that any missionary who could not preach in the local language within six months would be sent home. The PMU made it a compulsory condition for further service in the field, and would also recall its missionaries if they did not make satisfactory linguistic progress. The PMU also provided rudimentary training for its candidates but stated initially that their qualifications had simply to be “a fair knowledge of every Book in the Bible, and an accurate knowledge of the Doctrines of Salvation and Sanctification,” and candidates “must be from those who have received the Baptism of the Holy Ghost themselves.” There was no shortage of applications, and entrance requirements were soon made more stringent, including a required two-year training period. Candidates who were accepted for training mostly came from working-class occupations and had only an elementary or primary school education. In their admission policies, the PMU followed the established practices of other mission societies like the СІМ. But unlike many other Pentecostal groups at the time, the PMU did take its training programs very seriously.17

The first pentecostal missionary in Venezuela, former CMA member Gerard Badly, worked for several years to establish the first pentecostal Bible School for Latin Americans at the Hebron mission station outside Caracas in 1909, where pentecostal pastors from that country and Puerto Rico were trained. Badly did not charge fees and the school was self-supporting, with students employed in farm and other duties in the mission. Badly made a plea for support, referring to the drain on missionary funds involved in preparation, equipment, travel, and language instruction. He declared that the “principal solution to the problem” was the “properly equipped native.” Badly later cautioned that “scriptural submission one to the other” should “not interfere with the free workings of a scriptural native church or pretend at a colonial government or lording it over God’s heritage.” These were remarkable insights for 1915, as Badly envisaged a Venezuelan church “free from denominational and foreign trappings” that was “brought forth into national and spiritual birth in pentecostal manifestations and sovereign workings of the Holy Ghost.” He was later responsible for assisting in the beginnings of such an independent Venezuelan church. In the United States in 1926, Alice Luce founded the first Spanish-language pentecostal Bible school in San Diego for the AG, which opened one in Mexico City two years later.18

Western pentecostal missions contributed generously toward the establishment of “Bible schools” and in-service training structures throughout the world, resulting in the more rapid growth of indigenous churches. An AG survey conducted in 1959 revealed that half the budget of the Missions Department and half its missionaries were committed to theological institutions. However, the fundamental flaw of these structures was that they were Western models foisted onto the rest of the world, remnants of the colonial past of cultural imperialism and ethnocentrism. Pentecostal missionaries from Europe and North America thought they knew what sort of training people needed in Africa, Asia, and Latin America in order to become ministers after the model of the West; and at least in Africa, they even provided suits and ties to their students to try to recreate their particular view of respectability. It is clear that the alliance between Evangelicalism and white classical Pentecostalism in the United States from 1943 onward had a profound effect on Pentecostal theological education. Pentecostals found themselves drawn into the evangelical-ecumenical dichotomy pervading North American evangelical Christianity. Pentecostals were in danger of losing their distinctive experience-oriented spirituality as they uncritically adopted evangelical and fundamentalist models of education. As Henry Lederle points out.

It is an irony of recent ecclesiastical history that much of Pentecostal scholarship has sought to align itself so closely with the rationalistic heritage of American Fundamentalism... without fully recognizing how hostile these theological views are to Pentecostal and Charismatic convictions about present-day prophecy, healing miracles and other spiritual charisms.19

Pentecostal Bible colleges became prime generators of this new pentecostal fundamentalism, and Western pentecostal denominations gave priority to exporting this theological education to the Majority World. The rest of the world suffered from the great malaise in Western theological education, as missionary educators from Europe and North America unconsciously spread their presuppositions, paradigms, and ideological prejudices in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the Pacific. Hwa Yung points out that the many theological institutions that have sprung up all over Asia have been “conditioned by the methodologies, agenda, and content of Western theology.” He says, “This approach must be changed if the Asian church is to come to terms more adequately with its own identity, context, and mission.” The independence of India in 1947 began a domino-like fall of colonies culminating with the first democratically elected government in South Africa in 1994. The end of colonialism gave rise to a new and strident nationalism, and more recently there has emerged a continentalism that emphasizes human dignity. The recent emergence of an “Asian Pentecostal theology,” an Asian pentecostal theological society, and increasing numbers of Asian, Latin American and African pentecostals pursuing doctorates in theology are but a few examples of the changing times. Pentecostal churches in the Majority World now develop their own theological paradigms that challenge and transform Christian spirituality throughout the world. Western models of theological education often do not take enough notice of the specific, local, religious, social, and cultural contexts that surround people in the Majority World. Because it was also assumed that local leaders would be trained using Western methodologies, little thought was given to understanding how the Christian message might be communicated in other cultures and contexts that are multiethnic, pluralistic, and urbanized. Sometimes, insensitive and imperialistic attitudes on the part of dominant foreign missions have tended to stifle protest and constructive change.20

The various Bible schools that were eventually developed throughout the world shaped the future leadership of pentecostal denominations. Because the primary focus of these schools was on indoctrination rather than theology, graduates emerged bearing standardized doctrines, practices, and administrative structures they had learned during their limited period of training. They passed on a particular Western church culture that sometimes clashed with local cultures overseas. Internally, there were still leaders uncomfortable with the new emphasis on the need for education prior to service in a pentecostal ministry. Some pentecostal and charismatic organizations continue to insist on charisma rather than education as the essential prerequisite for Christian ministry. In the 1960s, Swiss sociologist Lalive d’Epinay contrasted the remarkably successful pentecostal pastors in Chile with little or no education, with the “complete stagnation” of the Methodists and Presbyterians whose pastors were well educated. This made him “less confident of the benefits of theological education, and even of the method of training in the developed countries which we impose on Protestants in the developing nations.” He stated that the educational methods of the West were simply “not suitable for the needs in Chile.” There, because North American missionaries had instituted theological education to avoid the “excesses” and “ignorant fanaticism” of Pentecostalism, Chilean Pentecostalism had a “strong anti-theological, anti-academic prejudice.”21

But in more recent years, pentecostal theological colleges, liberal arts colleges, and even universities have been established in various parts of the world with government accreditation. The Church of Pentecost, for example, opened Pentecost University College near Accra, Ghana, in 2003. This was inaugurated by the President of Ghana and accredited by the University of Ghana, Legon. It had almost 3,000 students in 2011 and offered degrees in business administration, information technology, and theology. Its rector has a PhD from the University of Durham and its chancellor, also chairman of the denomination, has a PhD in theology from the University of Birmingham. The burgeoning unregistered house church movement in China is predominantly pentecostal in nature and its ministers are mostly not well educated. One of the largest groups, claiming to represent 7 million Chinese Christians, realized the need for training and began the first long-term Bible School training center in 1994, providing free training for students who must first prove their calling. By the following year there were eighty students in the Bible School, but the school was closed and ten of the students imprisoned. The movement persisted and had more than fifty training centers all over China by 2010. Bible Schools and theological colleges continue to be a prominent part of leadership training and take many forms, from short-term, part-time evening courses to fully fledged universities offering graduate study. Such is the changing world of pentecostal education.22

The drastic transformation in Christian demographics has so far made little impact on Western conservative evangelical theological education, however, which continues to be the leading model in pentecostal seminaries across the globe. Latin Americans, Africans, and Asians have an increasing sense of self-identity, and although Western theology has adjusted to the particular challenges of post-modernism, feminism, and religious pluralism, presuppositions remain. The rise of post-modernism has profoundly challenged the autonomous rationalism and empirical skepticism of Western education but has not yet shaken the foundations of the theology taught in pentecostal seminaries. The theology that is generally exported from the West, observes Andrew Walls, is a “heavily indigenised, highly contextual theology... a way of making peace between Christianity and the European Enlightenment, of translating Christian affirmations into Enlightenment categories.” Characteristic of this is the literary-historical method of approach to Scripture that is almost universal in the West. Such theological methods were foreign to the Western church for centuries. Walls shows how all theological disciplines actually represent “a series of choices related to the cultural and religious history of the Western world.” However, the southward movement of world Christianity has both “opened up untold fresh possibilities for theology” and “vastly multiplied the resources available.” But the Western hegemony remains in theological institutions and their curricula. If the “non-Western” world is given any attention, it is usually placed in the context of Western churches and missions. One wonders how much longer this state of affairs can continue with the increasingly strident voice of Majority World theologians.23

The nature of church leadership is a fundamental historical difference between the mission of pentecostal churches and that of older churches. In pentecostal practice, the Holy Spirit is given to every believer without preconditions. One result is that the dichotomy between “clergy” and “laity” does not usually exist. Until comparatively recently, pentecostals have had no tradition of formal training for “ministers” as a class set apart. Pentecostal leaders are those whose primary qualification has been a “call of God” and an ability to preach effectively. This is still the case. Many of the most successful pentecostal churches today are led by people with little or no training in theology. A strong emphasis on charismatic leadership is a feature of Pentecostalism today and is accompanied by inevitable problems (especially the emergence of dictatorial leaders), but it results in churches that are often well organized and where the emphasis is on hearing the “word of God” relevant to the daily needs of the hearers.24

We have explored the role of the Bible, its interpretation, and education in biblical studies in the spread of Pentecostalism worldwide. The Bible is applied to local contexts in a way that makes use of plain readings of the text, enlarging the meanings of the text by frequent recourse to experience-based narratives, and undergirded by a literal approach that is common to the various forms of Pentecostalism. The result is a multiplicity of interpretations, which indirectly or directly leads to schism. In particular, the Bible is applied to a supernatural worldview that finds many parallels with the biblical record and this in turn transforms the Bible into a textbook for human felt needs. This has sometimes led to tensions between local interpretations and those imposed by international organizations from the West, “universal” interpretations that are often propagated through the Bible schools. Nevertheless, for all their shortcomings, pentecostal educational facilities had the advantage of training a new breed of leaders able to sustain the growth of the movement in the developing post-colonial world. Experiencing the Bible being taught, sung, and danced in community is a central part of what it means to be Pentecostal. How reading the Bible in these different pentecostal ways is linked to the main themes of the pentecostal message is the subject of the following chapter.

Pentecostals in Community and the Public Sphere

The history of Pentecostalism cannot be isolated from its characteristic practices. It almost goes without saying that pentecostal congregations are where community interaction happens. This is also where beliefs and values are formed, and pentecostal worship—especially prayer—is at the center of pentecostal communities. Steven Land observes that “the dimension of praise, worship, adoration and prayer to God” is the “most compelling characteristic” of Pentecostalism. The pentecostal worship service exists in many different forms, but this central activity lies at the heart of what Pentecostalism is all about. Here too, the Bible plays a prominent part. Pentecostal liturgy differs in different parts of the world, but the most essential common features are first, praise and prayer with singing, music, and often dancing (sometimes called the “worship time”); second, a central role given to biblical preaching; and third, usually individual prayer for needs at the close of the service. The observer able to attend public pentecostal events anywhere will immediately be aware that though the music and language are different, the spirituality is the same, something that Harvey Cox calls “primal spirituality,” which touches the inner recesses of human nature. Pentecostal rituals exhibit a worldview that presupposes that worship is about encountering God, including a faith in an all-powerful God who is there to meet human needs. One does not need to look much further than this to explain Pentecostalism’s attraction to the outside world, and this is also the fundamental change that Pentecostalism has facilitated in other forms of Christianity through the Charismatic movement. Pentecostal liturgy is often described as “lively” and is contrasted to that prevailing in more traditional churches. Traditional churches for their part have embraced some of these “lively” features in their own liturgies—only one of the transformations taking place in Christianity as a whole.25

Pentecostals would call their spirituality being “open to the Holy Spirit,” and their invitation is to “come to church” expecting to “meet with God.” Their worship is also participatory and spontaneous; their music is often contemporary, and there is usually a call for participants to “come to the front” (the “altar call”) to receive prayer and counsel. Preaching is often anecdotal and entertaining, but the effective preacher will also be convincing and will elicit a response. The preaching is the high point of the service and the congregation wants to leave feeling that they have been “fed,” empowered, and equipped for the week ahead. Different patterns of ministry, the central ordinances of baptism (usually by immersion of adult believers) and communion (almost always a simple remembrance of the death of Christ rather than celebrating a sacrament), the emphasis on vocalized, spontaneous prayer, and other ritual observances are all part of the pentecostal community, from which it reaches out into the local community. As Mark Cartledge observes, the pentecostal communities in their central rites of worship “form communal identity and assist members in negotiating the issues of everyday life.” Pentecostalism, because of its inherent flexibility and spontaneity, takes on many of the characteristics of the society in which it is found. It taps into local cultural and religious traditions and thereby renders pentecostal worship more accessible.26

For pentecostals, Christian worship is a joyful experience to be entered into with the whole person: body, mind, and spirit. This free, exuberant worship is not merely a cultural trait of Africans or Latin Americans. One has only to be at a European football match to see that Europeans can exhibit the same qualities. A new emphasis on the role of the Spirit in the worship, work, and witness of the church is one of the main reasons for this infectious enthusiasm. The experience of the Spirit’s presence is seen as a normal part of daily life and is brought to bear upon all situations. God’s salvation is seen in different manifestations of God’s abiding presence through the Spirit, divine revelations that assure us that “God is there” to help in every area of need. As Ghanaian theologian Asamoah- Gyadu puts it, referring to African Pentecostalism,

One of the major contributions of African Christians, particularly Pentecostals and charismatics, to Western Christianity is the attention it draws to the fact that Christianity is about experience and that the power of God is able to transform circumstances that Western rationalist theologies will consider the preserve of psychology and scientific development.27

These holistic, ecstatic, and experiential religious practices are found throughout the world. The antiphonal, boisterous singing; simultaneous and spontaneous prayer; and rhythmic dance are found throughout global Pentecostalism, emphasizing the freedom, equality, community, and dignity of each person in the sight of God. The experience of the power of the Spirit is for Pentecostals a unifying factor in a global society still deeply divided and can be the catalyst for the emergence of a new society where there is justice for all and hope in a desperately violent world.

Many pentecostal churches seek to provide for the holistic needs of their members. For this reason, some churches in South Africa form funeral societies, bursary funds for the education of their children, and assist members in financial distress. Some of these churches have “welfare committees” responsible for feeding and clothing the poor and the destitute. As anthropologist Martin West points out, independent churches in Soweto “meet many of the needs of townspeople which were formerly met by kin groups on a smaller scale in rural areas.” West’s observation from the 1970s is still appropriate. He lists several ways in which the social needs of church members are met in an urban setting. The congregation as a voluntary association provides its members with a sense of family, friendship (providing support groups in times of insecurity), protection in the form of leadership (and particularly charismatic leadership), and social control (by emphasizing and enforcing certain norms of behavior); it also helps in practical ways like finding employment, giving mutual aid in times of personal crisis, and affording leadership opportunities. The churches thus provide for their members “new bases for social organisation.”28

Pentecostal and charismatic churches see themselves as God’s people, called out from the world around them with a distinct mission. They have a sense of identity as a separated community whose primary purpose is to promote their cause to those outside. “Church” for them is the most important activity in life, and Christianity is brought to bear upon every situation. For migrant pentecostals in Europe, their churches have practical functions; these can cover obtaining a visa to remain in the country, receiving help in finding employment, dealing with racism and rejection, finding financial help, receiving advice regarding marriage and family affairs, or being healed from sickness and other afflictions seen as attacks by Satan. In short, the church is a caring, therapeutic community and at once a refuge from the storms and difficulties of a new life and an advice center for every possible eventuality. Many European churches, influenced by their individualistic and secular society, have largely lost this sense of therapeutic community and belongingness that is so much a central characteristic of pentecostal Christianity.

There has also been increasing pentecostal involvement in politics and in the public sphere. Pentecostal ideas on what constitutes a “Christian” society in recent times are influenced by the controversies surrounding laws on abortion and sexuality in particular, but also by support for the death penalty and for the state of Israel. In this they have not been noticeably different from the wider evangelical movement, and these notions are always supported by biblical reference. It is difficult to draw conclusions about contemporary pentecostal attitudes to politics, which can best be described as ambivalent. Many political leaders have been known to consort with pentecostals, who are an increasingly influential opinion-forming group. Frederick Chiluba (1943-2011), president of Zambia from 1991 to 2002 and a former labor union leader, declared Zambia a “Christian nation” and was known to have had a pentecostal experience. He preached in pentecostal churches and had several pentecostals in his government and as advisers. The political activities of the pentecostal bishop Margaret Wanjiru in Kenya were profiled in the previous chapter. Eduardo (“Eddie”) Villanueva (b.1946) is the founder and leader of one of the largest non-Catholic denominations in the Philippines, the Jesus is Lord Church, which began in 1978 and is the largest pentecostal church in the country with over a million members and branches among expatriate Filipinas in other parts of Asia, Europe, and North America. He unsuccessfully stood as a candidate in the 2004 and 2010 presidential elections, and although he polled only 6 percent of the vote in 2004 and 3 percent in 2010, he remains a hugely influential figure in Philippine politics. Two of his sons are also in politics. His pentecostal identity in a strongly Catholic country probably cost him votes, especially when his opponents charged him with wanting to convert all Filipinos to Pentecostalism. Villanueva, who was a Marxist activist in his pre-Christian days, has a strong reputation as a campaigner against government corruption and calls for justice for the poor. Mike Velarde of the powerful El Shaddai organization has played an important role in mustering support for political candidates from his millions of followers but did not support Villanueva in his candidacy.29

Social and political issues among pentecostals will continue to be debated and in such a fast-moving and changing movement it is difficult to draw precise conclusions. In fact, as Joel Robbins has pointed out after surveying the literature, “the way Pentecostalism shapes political attitudes and practices is at this point utterly inconclusive.” Kalu takes sharp issue with Gifford’s analysis of Ghanaian Pentecostalism making pentecostals “divine pool players” who are not motivated to work hard. He charges that Gifford’s portrayal is “from only the perspective of its enemies” and is in contrast to the views of sympathetic African scholars. There is a sense in which pentecostals have preferred to get on with the job of involvement in society rather than making theoretical statements about it. The exceptions have usually been the more outlandish opinions expressed in national media. There are problems and ingrained hard-line attitudes to be sure. But as Miller and Yamamori have demonstrated, pentecostals are increasingly involved in “community-based social ministries,” with a “balanced approach to evangelism and social action” that reflects the mature development of Pentecostalism “from being an otherworldly sect to a dominant force in reshaping global Christianity.”30

Like many other religious movements in the 1990s, Pentecostalism was affected by the sudden fall of the Iron Curtain, especially in Central and Eastern Europe. But it is more difficult to establish the influence of the dramatic events of 1989-91 on the growth of Pentecostalism in the South in the last decade of the twentieth century, except in an indirect way. We have seen that its accelerating growth was already set in motion in the 1970s and has continued unabated ever since. Undoubtedly, the forces of globalization and the movement toward a “universal culture” were at work in this shift in religious demographics. Pentecostalism was also fast becoming an alternative meta-culture within an even larger global culture in an increasingly polarized world, and offered membership in a global religious community that was more accessible than the elusive wealth of the West. The end of the Cold War stopped the race for power and influence between the United States and the Soviet Union that had brought large amounts of money and dependency to prop up dictatorships in the southern continents; this meant that poverty accelerated and nations and peoples placed high value on international connections. This was particularly the case in Africa, where entrepreneurial religious leaders found that religion was a way to attain an affluent lifestyle—here, Pentecostalism’s potentially anarchistic ecclesiastical structures offered freedom to run an independent church like a large and highly successful corporation. Thousands of independent charismatic churches were formed in Africa’s cities, in some notorious cases forming grist for the mill of media reports and accusations of manipulation and exploitation. In forgotten parts of African cities where personal ambition for a better life was usually unrealized and bitterly disappointing, international contacts were given priority. The easiest international connections to obtain were religious ones, and the most successful preachers who were financially prosperous and attracted the largest numbers were those who could demonstrate and establish such links. Pentecostalism with its transnational and multicentered networks and ability to recreate itself in any cultural context was poised in the 1990s to provide these global connections. At the same time, pentecostal churches in the North were anxious to establish their own credentials as “international” organizations and needed the churches of the South to increase their own standing, often to their own considerable financial advantage. Thus, the dependency was entirely mutual.

Historically, what has happened to world Christianity in the twentieth century could also be described as a pentecostal reformation. Vinson Synan calls the twentieth century “the century of the Holy Spirit.” Christianity as a whole has been profoundly changed by Pentecostalism’s conviction that the emotions, music, and dance, and especially the exercising of spiritual gifts, are important both for meaningful Christian worship and for attracting people to Christianity. The transformation of worldwide Christianity into a more holistic and emotional spirituality stands in stark contrast to the doctrinal, intellectual emphasis of the European Enlightenment-influenced Christianity that prevailed well into the twentieth century. But this rapid expansion of pentecostal forms of Christianity has also come at a price. Traditional Christian churches have, as we have seen, resisted change; multiple and cascading schisms have occurred; and pentecostals have been accused of proselytism. Indeed, many pentecostal converts originate in other churches, even if their membership was nominal, as was mostly the case with Catholic converts in Latin America and in the Philippines. In some countries, like Eritrea, Greece, or Russia, pentecostals have come into open conflict with dominant forms of Christianity. In Eritrea this has resulted in severe persecution, as pentecostals are not among the four religions officially sanctioned by the government. They have been severely harassed and banned since 2002 and are arrested, incarcerated, and ordered to “return” to Eritrean Orthodoxy. Eritrea is reportedly one of the worst countries in the world for religious persecution and a new purge of pentecostals started in December 2007 and again in May 2011. As a result, pentecostals must meet secretly in small groups and in constant fear of harassment and arrest.31

Pentecostalism’s aggressive evangelism also affects its relationships with other religions. Most pentecostals will affirm a theological exclusivism that proclaims no “salvation” outside of explicit Christian faith. This sometimes brings about a violent reaction from other religionists. This is most evident in India, where Hindu extremists burn down churches and persecute Christians; but it is especially prevalent in those Islamic countries where conversion to another religion is outlawed. Five pentecostal pastors in Iran were killed near the end of the twentieth century, including the leader of Iranian pentecostals, Haik Hovsepian Mehr, who lost his life in 1994. Nigerian historian Ogbu Kalu argued that Pentecostalism exhibits a “lack of a viable theology of dialogue in an increasingly pluralistic public space.” Pentecostal rhetoric against Islam in Nigeria, he claimed, amounts to the “demonization of Islam.” Pentecostal entrepreneurs from the south have moved into Muslim cities in the north to attempt to convert Muslims. Violence and intolerance results from the contesting religious fundamentalisms found in countries like Nigeria. Kalu concluded that multiculturalism and a tolerant religious pluralism are only workable in worldviews where religion has been relegated to the periphery. In most parts of the world where Pentecostalism flourishes, religion is at the heart of popular worldviews and conflict is inevitable. Nevertheless, a better understanding of other religions rather than a confrontational attitude will go some way toward easing tension.32

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