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The Pentecostal group of denominations

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bullet "Pentecost is an experience not a denomination." Heading of a United Pentecostal Church International web site. 9


The Pentecostal family of denominations form one branch of conservative Protestantism within Christianity. A major defining feature of Pentecostalism is their belief in Glossolalia -- the ability to speak "in tongues". Another is the unusual freedom and spontaneity exhibited during their religious services. Otherwise, their beliefs and practices are similar to those of other conservative Christians. They strongly oppose abortion access, equality for sexual minorities, and same-sex marriage.

Pentecostalism is a highly fragmented family within Christianity; one source lists 177 separate denominations. 3

History of Pentecostalism:

Pentecostalism is a relatively modern branch of Christianity. It grew out of the Holiness movement, which in turn had roots in Methodism.

Robert Longman Jr.  1 has listed a number of mid to late 19th century writings from within the Holiness movement which laid the foundations for Pentecostalism:

bullet 1845 : Article by John Morgan in the Oberlin Quarterly (issue 1, p.115)
bullet 1856 : Book by William Arthur: "The Tongue Of Fire"
bullet 1859 : Guide by Phoebe Palmer, "Guide to Holiness"
bullet 1870 : Book by Asa Mahan "Baptism Of the Holy Ghost"

During the last two decades of the 19th century, there were reports of xenoglossia breaking out at revival meetings, particularly in North and South Carolina. Xenoglossia is the speaking of a foreign language by a person who normally has no familiarity with it. For example, an American with no ability to speak any language other than English suddenly became capable of speaking fluent German. There may also have been some instances of glossolalia (ecstatic speech that is meaningless to the typical listener).

The year 1899 saw a great rise in religious fervor as people speculated about the second coming of Jesus and the end of history as they knew it during the year 1900. Many books were written about the power of the Holy Spirit. Charles F. Parham, a Holiness preacher and head of the Bethel Bible College in Topeka, Kansas conducted a revival meeting in that city. Agnes Ozman, a Methodist, shocked the meeting by reportedly speaking fluently in a number of foreign languages that she had never previously learned. This happened on 1900-JAN-1. This event is often regarded as the founding of the Pentecostal movement. Some days later, many other individuals also spoke in tongues. Then Parham did as well.

One of Parham's students, an African-American named William Seymour started a home church in Los Angeles CA which was attended by members of the two Baptist churches and one Holiness church in that city. On 1906-APR-9, Seymour's landlord, Edward Lee, and closest co-worker, Jennie E. Moore broke out in tongues. Attendance increased precipitously. This made it necessary to find new quarters in which to hold their meetings. They rented an empty warehouse on Azusa Street in Los Angeles and founded the Apostolic Faith Mission.

The movement spread to other cities in California, and into the Northwestern and Southeastern sections of the US. Many churches were organized - particularly among immigrants. Some Holiness churches switched to Pentecostalism. The movement subsequently spread across North America, and has now blanketed much of the world.

Until 1914, the movement worked primarily within the Holiness churches. But increasing friction motivated the Pentecostals to form their first denomination, the Church of God in Christ. Although the movement was racially integrated in its early years, racial divisions soon developed. Many white clergy could not handle the presence of both blacks and whites in the congregation; the clergy subsequently left to form the Assemblies of God where blacks could be excluded.

Eventually, there evolved three main Pentecostal divisions, and a number of similar splinter groups: 

bullet Some Pentecostals, particularly those with a Holiness background, believe in the "Pentecostal experience" as the third of three experiences:
  1. justification (faith and trust by the believer in Jesus as Lord and Savior)
  2. sanctification (the "second blessing" - imparting of a new life to the believer by the Holy Spirit)
  3. baptism of the Holy Spirit (as evidenced by speaking in tongues)

Their main denominations include: Church of God (Cleveland TN), Church of God in Christ.

bullet Other Pentecostals, particularly those with a Baptist background, believe that the baptism of the Holy Spirit can happen to any believer in Jesus, whether or not they have first been sanctified. The main denomination is the General Council of Assemblies of God
bullet Oneness Pentecostals (a.k.a. "Jesus Only" or "Apostolic Pentecostals") believe that in the early Christian church, baptism was done in the name of Jesus Christ only (as in Acts 2:38) , not in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit (as in Matthew 28:19). In time, this group abandoned the traditional expression of belief in the Trinity, and accept the oneness of God. A crisis developed within the Assemblies of God (AOG) in 1916 over these new beliefs. The AOG decided to remain Trinitarian, both in its baptismal formula and its concept of deity. Almost 200 pastors left the Assemblies of God as a result. The United Pentecostal Church and the Pentecostal Assemblies of The World are the main Oneness Pentecostal denominations.

Some denominations are congregational in structure; the individual congregations are self governing. Others have a connectional structure, in which regional and national organizations decide matters of doctrine and organization.

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The United Pentecostal Church International:

Within the Pentecostal movement, the United Pentecostal Church International is quite unusual. It holds many non-traditional beliefs, that conflict with other denominations within Pentecostalism, including:

bullet They believe that the ability to speak in tongues is a necessary indication of a valid religious conversion.. They deny the legitimacy of the conversion of hundreds of millions of "born again" Christians from other denominations where tongues are rarely, if ever, spoken. "No tongues - no salvation." So, for example, they would regard most Southern Baptists as unsaved, even though most had gone through the same process of sincerely repenting of their sins and trusting Jesus as their Lord and Savior, just as most UPCI members have.
bullet They share with other "Oneness Pentecostals" the practice of baptizing in the name of Jesus Christ only. (See Acts 2:38) Almost all Christian denominations follow the alternate baptismal formula at Matthew 28:19 and baptize in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
bullet They believe that anyone who is not baptized in the name of Jesus only will not be accepted into heaven when they die. That would include almost the entire human race. The alternative, of course, is an eternity being punished in Hell.
bullet They reject the traditional concept of the Trinity. They do not believe that the Godhead is composed of a single deity composed of three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. They believe that God is a unity, a Spirit, who has manifested himself in three roles or "offices, roles, or relationship to humanity." 8 An analogy would be a single man who plays three different roles: that of father, son, and husband -- either sequentially or at the same time. This concept is frequently misunderstood by individuals and groups outside of the UPCI; the denomination are often condemned as a cult because of the confusion over the UPCI's precise understanding of the nature of God.
bullet In common with many other Pentecostal denominations, their religious service includes footwashing in emulation of Jesus and his followers.
bullet Members are forbidden to join the Masonic Order and other "secret societies."
bullet Strict dress and hair codes were once followed, particularly for women. However, these restrictions have now been largely abandoned
bullet Similarly, attendance at movies or watching television was once prohibited. This has also been relaxed.

The church has about 2.3 million members world-wide, including about 600,000 members in their 3,764 North American churches. Their main periodical is The Pentecostal Herald. It is available online. 7 The UPCI's radio program is called Harvestime. It is available throughout the U.S., Canada, and the rest of the world.

Internet resources:

bullet Associations:
bullet The home page of the Pentecostal World Conference is at: 
bullet Pentecostal/Charismatic Churches of North America (PCCNA) has a website at: 
bullet Denominations:
bullet The Assemblies of God denominational home page is at:
bullet The Church of God denominational home page is at: Their Declaration of Faith is listed at:
bullet The United Pentecostal Church International denominational home page is at:
bullet The Apostolic Restoration Mission is an Apostolic Pentecostal church with a special positive outreach to the lesbian and gay community. See: More details
bullet Other:
bullet A list of Pentecostal organizations and churches is maintained at:
bullet A list of Pentecostal periodicals, worldwide, is at: 


  1. Robert Longman Jr., "Pentecostalist History," at:
  2. Vinson Synan, "The Origins of the Pentecostal Movement," at:
  3. J. Gordon Melton, Ed, "The Encyclopedia of American Religions: A Comprehensive Study of the Major Religious Groups in the United States and Canada," 3 volume set, Triumph Books, New York, NY, (1989)
  4. J.W. Wright, Editor, "The Universal Almanac, 1996", Andrews & McMeel, Kansas City., P. 517
  5. Greg H. Parsons, Executive Director, "U.S. Center for World Mission," Pasadena, CA; quoted in Zondervan News Service, 1997-FEB-21.
  6. Charles E Jones, "Symbol and Sign in Methodist Holiness and Pentecostal Spirituality," an essay in Timothy Miller, Ed., "America's Alternative Religions," SUNY Press, Albany NY (1995)
  7. The United Pentecostal Church International has a home page is at:
  8. The UPCI has "60 Questions on the Godhead with Bible answers," at:
  9. The heading came from a UPCI web site advertising Pentecost Sunday at: 

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Copyright © 1997 to 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally published: 1997-DEC-20
Latest update and review: 2000-APR-11
Author: B.A. Robinson

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