This year we have celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Azusa Street Pentecostal phenomenon. An October survey from Pew Forum on Religion and Public states that more than 40% of Pentecostals, in a majority of countries surveyed, indicate that they have never spoken in tongues. In the United States only half of Pentecostals have spoken in tongues. It was the experience of speaking in other tongues, just like on the day of Pentecost, which propelled the Pentecostal movement to the front pages of newspapers across the world 100 years ago. Of course no one has suggested that speaking in tongues has ceased among Pentecostals, not at all. In fact today, people from a wide range of denominations and backgrounds enjoy this gift.
The term “Pentecostal” is usually used in reference to the denominations that sprang up from the Azusa Street revival and other similar outpourings approximately 100 years ago, while the term “Charismatic” is used concerning later moves of the Holy Spirit that have affected the church world, particularly in the 60’s and 70’s. In Brazil Pentecostals are more likely than Charismatics to speak in tongues, whereas in India Charismatics are more likely to do so than Pentecostals. In Guatemala it is about equal, all according to a column by Ted Olsen in the current issue of Christianity Today. In his article Mr. Olsen goes on to suggest that if speaking in tongues is not what brings unity among Pentecostals, maybe belief in material prosperity is. Here he quotes the interesting statistic that in Nigeria 95% of Pentecostals agree that “God wants to grant material prosperity to all believers, while 97% believe God will grant good health and relief from sickness to believers who have enough faith.” In the Philippines that percentage is 99%. These are all interesting observations, but I cannot help to think that we are missing the whole purpose of Pentecost. I had always considered speaking in tongues the smallest sign of the Baptism in the Holy Spirit, while a passion and love for lost humanity is the greatest sign. Certainly the result of the first Pentecost was that believers received power to be witnesses unto Christ (Acts 1:8). I remember in my teens reading T.L. Osborn’s book “Purpose of Pentecost”. It certainly reinforced the idea that baptism and the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues was to empower believers to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ with signs and wonders following. Am I unrealistic? I appreciate speaking in tongues and I believe God desires to give both physical healing and material blessings to His people, but looking into the book of Acts I can’t help but notice that the gift was given to empower us to action for the world.
The Great Commission without the Day of Pentecost is a cruel and impossible command. Alternately, the Day of Pentecost without the Great Commission is a self-centered blessing.
What are your thoughts?