The Legacy of Azusa Street

Has the global Pentecostal movement done enough to share Azusa's racial, ethnic, and gender diversity with the world?


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But has this spectacular explosion had any real impact on the rest of the Christian world? It has, and that impact will continue. Martin Marty recently commented that the future of Christianity belongs not to the fundamentalists but to the Pentecostals. One reason he is right is that what might be called "Pentecostalism-lite" has erupted within several other denominations. The Catholic "charismatic" movement is well known, and has replaced "base communities" as the heartbeat of Latin American Catholicism. There is already an organization of "Full Gospel Black Baptist" churches. Lutherans, Methodists, and Congregationalists now often pray in Pentecostal style, with their hands raised to heaven, and few mainline churches are without healing prayers and services, something left to Lourdes pilgrims and Christian Scientists (and of course, Pentecostals) until a couple of decades ago.


Another of the biggest Pentecostal influences may be in church music. Pentecostals were not the first, but probably have been the most successful in introducing the popular music of the people into their worship. Further, the music they brought into the sanctuary was drawn from the particular styles of each church's region: salsa, bossa nova, Filipino flutes, cabaret tunes, and rock. Now other Christian churches have picked up on this, and guitars, electronic keyboards, and trap drums often cluster in front of Methodist or Catholic altars and pulpits.


Mainly, Pentecostals were farthest ahead of the curve in recognizing that people today are seeking a direct experience of God, the holy, or the transcendent mystery. An old Pentecostal saying sums it up: "When a man with an experience argues with a man who has an argument, the man with the experience wins." There is tendency throughout our society and many others to distrust institutions and hierarchies. Even the Roman Catholic Church, the most hierarchical of all, is now faced with widespread rebellion on the part of the laity, demanding more say in the way their church is run. The "Voice of the Faithful" movement in Boston is only one example of this groundswell.


Its lack of hierarchy and tendency to subdivide is, however, both the strength and weakness of Pentecostalism. With no bishops, no presbyteries, and certainly no Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, some of the newer Pentecostal offshoots can begin to exhibit questionable, sometimes even bizarre, qualities.


One exception to Pentecostalism's lack of hierarchy is The Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, which originated in Brazil but now has congregations in more than one hundred countries. It specializes in mass exorcisms, and its pattern is more like a client-customer relationship than a congregational one. It has a kind of pay-for-services structure, but it may be the fastest-growing expression of Pentecostalism. The church, which claims 6 million members, owns the second-largest TV network in Brazil, and its temples in some cities are the largest ones, sometimes seating 8,000 people or more. The temple they have recently built in Salvador, Bahia—which I visited last summer—dominates the skyline. But many leaders of the most "classical" Pentecostal groups like Assemblies of God shake their heads and throw up their hands in despair at this development. They call the church pseudo-Pentecostal, but concede that it is bringing in people in larger numbers than they are.


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