The Pentecostal movement has roots in the late 19th century, which was a time of indifference to traditional customs and religions. Emotional modes of religious expression such as enthusiastic singing, spontaneous testimonies, prayer in unison, and fervent sermons were conducted by lay preachers. Pentecostal churches spoke to the special needs of those seeking relief and comfort from the everyday struggles in life.
Contemporary Pentecostalism came in the early 20th century at Bethel Bible College in Kansas. The college’s director, Charles Fox Parham, believed that the formal church needed to be revived. His students were instructed to pray, fast, study the Scriptures and await the blessings of the Holy Spirit, just like the Apostles. One of Parham’s students spoke in an unknown tongue in 1901. Others soon had the same experiences, and Parham claimed that glossolalia (the phenomenon of apparently speaking in an unknown language, especially in religious worship) was the evidence that one had been baptized with the Holy Spirit. Parham and his students interpreted this as a sign and a sense of urgency ensued as they set out on an evangelical mission.
In 1903, when Parham practiced faith healing, its popularity increased. The movement enjoyed success in the American South and Southwest, attracting new converts. Larger expansion resulted from the Azusa Street revival that began in 1906 at the Apostolic Faith Gospel Mission in California. William Seymour was its’ leader. Under Seymour’s guidance, a building on Azusa Street became a spiritual gathering place that attracted both wealthy and destitute individuals of all races and ethnicities.
Men and women from Azusa and other Pentecostal churches began extolling the reality of speaking in tongues. Members wanted reform and revival. They wanted Spirit-filled communities like those described in the New Testament. By the beginning of World War I, new congregations emerged in both rural and city environments. During the last three decades, Pentecostalism grew and there are now over 250 million Pentecostals world-wide, who make up more than 10% of all Christians. It continues to grow.
Some Pentecostal churches include: Assemblies of God, Church of God in Christ, Church of God of Prophecy, Full Gospel Baptist Church Fellowship, Hillsong Church, International Pentecostal Holiness Church, Pentecostal Assemblies of the World and United Pentecostal Church International (UPCI). Because of the many churches and congregations, there are some rituals that differ, but most share core beliefs that the majority practice.
Pentecostal churches follow scripture in practicing baptism by full immersion of the whole body. Unlike other Christian churches, infant baptism is not practiced. They regard water baptism as an outward expression following an individual’s personal choice to follow Christ. They believe that young children are not able to make that choice because they do not recognize their need for salvation. Instead, infants are dedicated to God and blessed just like the Bible stories of young children being brought to Jesus to be blessed. Matthew 19:14 states: Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”
Sanctification is another ritual/belief strongly held in the church. They believe a person is sanctified when their life is dedicated to God and they are separated from the sins of their past. When a person is sanctified, they are born again to Christ through the Holy Spirit and turn away from sinful behaviors and thoughts of their old life. They believe the work of sanctification is carried out by the Holy Spirit. The term “Born Again Christian” is often used for people who have been sanctified.
Baptism in the Holy Spirit is the central event of Pentecostalism and is an essential part of salvation. The name of the movement commemorates the first baptism in the Spirit, of Jesus’ disciples on the day of Pentecost. They believe a person must already have been converted before they can receive baptism in the Holy Spirit. Traditionally this is a second baptism after the water baptism. Holy Spirit baptism is an experience in which the believer gives control of themselves to the Holy Spirit. This experience is considered knowing Christ in a more intimate way and the individual is being energized with the power to witness and grow spiritually. Holy Spirit baptism is believed to be an action of God’s grace, but one that is available only to people who put themselves forward to receive it. The proof of having been baptized in the Spirit is speaking in tongues. Speaking in tongues is the only consistent event associated with baptism in the Spirit in the various Biblical accounts of this phenomenon. A person who has been baptized in the Spirit is believed to have the Holy Spirit within them to empower and guide them for their entire lives. The term “Holy Ghost (Spirit) Filled” is a term used in modern day to describe this type of baptism and experience.
Pentecostals believe that “Gifts of the Spirit” are God-given supernatural abilities given to believers. These gifts are used for purposes such as healing the sick, prophecy, driving out demons and generally helping the believer in their daily life. Speaking in tongues also falls into the category as a “gift” as it is speaking miraculously in a language unknown to the speaker. Belief in miracles such as divine healing is a strong belief.
Rituals like communion, (representing two components of the Lord’s Supper: (1) bread—the symbol of the broken body of Christ, and (2) the blood—the shed blood of Christ), foot washing (like Jesus did at the Last Supper to represent humility), prayer cloths (prayed over by a healer and placed on the body) used to heal the sick are commonly practiced. Many Pentecostals tithe the standard 10% of their income to the church. A rare ritual that some churches engage in is snake handling. This practice is based on Mark 16:18; “they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all”. The majority of Pentecostal denominations do not practice this, but it is often sensationalized in the media.
An integral part of Pentecostalism grew out of African-American churches which retained many stylistic elements that still resonate with the developing world (and with the contemporary West too). These were things such as an emphasis on the connection of body, mind and spirit, which it displayed in its highly physical worship, and in healing, speaking in tongues, and the acceptance of visions and dreams as valuable tools of spiritual insight.
Pentecostal funeral customs generally follow other Protestant funeral traditions and rituals and can differ due to the diversity and many different denominations within. The service can take place at the church, funeral home, gravesite or other appointed location. Black funeral attire was customarily worn in the past, but white is more frequently being used as a symbol of the Pentecostal belief in the resurrection of the body.
Services vary in length (usually 30 to 90 minutes) and content depending on the deceased (if conveyed or pre-planned) and the family’s wishes. Pentecostal funeral services are led by the church’s minister and include scripture readings from the Bible. Prayers and other hymns and songs, either sacred, traditional or contemporary are sung by the congregation and/or choir. The services are generally less somber than other Protestant traditions. Following the musical selections, the minister typically will offer condolences to the family members and loved ones of the deceased. The minister preaches a sermon. The sermon is generally followed by the closing prayer.
Cremation and embalming are both allowed in the Pentecostal church. A viewing may or may not take place. It is at the discretion of the family and/or the circumstances of the death. If a viewing is taking place, the family would generally view the body first and then the rest of the congregation will follow.
A reception line is also formed for visitors to offer condolences. After church service is dismissed, committal service is conducted at the gravesite. Prayers or Benediction (if not said earlier) may be said at the gravesite as well. Persons of all faiths are welcome to attend all portions of the proceedings. Flowers, cards and donations are generally accepted. A reception usually follows the interment and friends and relatives are invited to attend. It is appropriate to offer to prepare a dish or meal to share at the reception or to serve to the family following burial.