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Neil Hudson, You Will Never Know Where You Are Going Until You Know Where You Came From: British Pentecostals’ past development and future challenges

One hundred years ago, the thought that there would be a new grouping within Evangelicalism that would spread throughout the world with a rate of growth that in certain places would outstrip countries’ birth rates would have been deemed to be a flight of fancy. Yet this is exactly what happened. However, for all their shared roots, the relationship between Pentecostalism and Evangelicalism has often been distant and uneasy. Nevertheless, Pentecostals have increasingly been interested in examining their historical roots, recognising the points of contact and the diversions that have been part of their history. This article reflects this development. Emerging from the same parental stock, the Pentecostal child has grown into an adult with its own emphases, aspirations and dangers. This article will examine some of these aspects of Pentecostalism.

Pentecostalism’s Heritage

Pentecostalism’s formation and development looks to the nineteenth century Holiness Movement for its parentage. Perhaps every generation has looked at the Church they have inherited, compared it with the biblical account of the early Church and pronounced the diagnosis that something fundamental was awry. Certainly, by the late nineteenth century, Evangelicalism was ill at ease with itself and had spawned many agencies seeking to kick start the Church back into life.

In Britain, the Holiness Movement, particularly as mediated through the Keswick Convention, became a significant breeding ground for proto-Pentecostals. The theology surrounding this ecumenical event (its motto was ‘All one in Christ Jesus’) focused on the desire for a victorious Christian life that many of its delegates desired above all else. The answer to this overwhelming desire was to be found in an experience of a life lived in the ‘fullness of the Spirit’. Rejecting the more extreme views of ‘sinless perfection’, the clear expectation was that the believer, once justified by faith, could have a distinct divine experience which would become the gateway into leading a ‘life of overcoming’. This life would then be transformed into service—the work of the Spirit would provide the disciple with power to witness.

For many Evangelicals, convinced of the fact that too often the Church was leading a spiritually substandard life, this was deemed to be the obvious answer. Many early proto-Pentecostals became frequent visitors to the convention in Keswick, returning to their mission halls and prayer meetings having claimed this experience of sanctification by faith. That this was the answer to the problems of the Church was given credibility when the Welsh Revival broke out in 1904. Led by the trio of Holiness revivalists: Seth Joshua, Joseph Jenkins and Evan Roberts, the freewheeling dynamism of the Revival awakened many people’s imaginations to the possibility of a much wider spiritual renewal. The Welsh Revival was to be a significant precursor to Pentecostalism for a number of reasons. Some future Pentecostal leaders were converted in the Revival; others, such as Rev. A. A. Boddy, visited Wales and returned to their home churches having witnessed the radical freedom of the services, believing this to be a hallmark of the Spirit in action. A third reason related to the fact that the post-revival period was marked by small home-groups that delineated themselves as ‘Children of the Revival’. It was amongst these groups that Pentecostalism would break out. They had experienced the freedom of the Revival, were convinced that this was what churches had been missing for years and were not content to return to the formalism of non-conformist churches.

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Category: Church History, Pneuma Review, Summer 2012

About the Author: Neil Hudson is a Pentecostal pastor who has worked in local churches, theological colleges, and is currently working with the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity as a church consultant and trainer. His most recent book is Imagine Church: Releasing Whole-Life Disciples (IVP, 2012).

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