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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

Initial Pentecostal reactions to the Charismatic Renewal were a mixture of astonishment and pleasure. This was followed by confusion and suspicion, since these new “Pentecostals” did not feel the need to join with the historic Pentecostal churches, nor even to consult with them about their new found experiences. These feelings of uncertainty were only heightened after reports were circulated that Catholics had also experienced Pentecostal phenomena, yet had not renounced their church, but rather, in some cases, were testifying that their experiences had led them to a greater appreciation for their traditions. Although some more radical Pentecostal leaders were happy to join with these Charismatic gatherings, for the most part Pentecostal churches continued in their revivalist traditions.

The changes happened when a harder-edged form of the Charismatic Renewal was propagated through the House Church Movement, particularly that epitomized in the ministry of Bryn Jones and Arthur Wallis. There were a number of Pentecostal churches attracted to teaching that related to the authority of the church, and by implication the authority of the church leaders. The emphasis on covenant relationships within church that took the place of denominational hierarchical relationships, and the relaxed, more flowing and contemporary worship styles were also attractive to many younger Pentecostals. After a number of Pentecostal churches moved across to these newer groups, the Pentecostal denominations realized that they had to address these new issues and did so, moving to a close approximation of their services and styles of worship and leadership. By the time changes had been introduced, the House Church Movement began to be seen to be less radical and threatening. However, their influence and that of the wider Charismatic Movement, had changed British Pentecostal churches fundamentally.

Influenced by the general acceptance of Pentecostal beliefs, through events like Spring Harvest and the new-church-influenced Evangelical Alliance, Pentecostal churches became far less sectarian. Many dropped their denominational title and the word Pentecostal from their church titles, moving to ‘Christian Fellowship’, echoing their Holiness roots where the world ‘church’ was rarely used in an attempt to demonstrate their ecclesiastical freedom. Pentecostals joined and led local church fraternals, were accepted as full members and able to accept other churches as friends in terms of mission. Pentecostals grappled with the emphases that moved through Charismatic churches—inner healing, spiritual warfare, positive confession, deliverance ministries, the Toronto Blessing and Pensacola revivalist preaching, youth congregations, alternative worship, cell church form of church.

But if Pentecostals now feel they were at the table as full and equal members of the Evangelical fraternity, there was a price to pay. British Pentecostals became a group in search of an identity. At present, many Christians accept that charismatic gifts were not limited to the early Church, but are a vital component of contemporary church life. It is also a time when globalisation has affected worship so that worship styles are increasingly mono-cultural so that one can no longer be sure to which denomination the church one is attending is attached. Similarly, praying for revival is done in massed gatherings obliterating denominational differences. With so many distinctive theological or ecclesiological differences dissolved, Pentecostal denominational leaders are leading their churches into a very different future than their predecessors would have imagined possible.

So who are we now?

One of the byproducts of the Charismatic Renewal is that there are now far more theologically trained thinkers who have experienced renewal by the Spirit, in a Pentecostal understanding of that phrase. Whilst for the first couple of years, the Pentecostal explanation of subsequence was paramount, it was only a matter of time before Michael Harper, Tom Smail, David Pawson and more latterly Max Turner and John Wimber would present alternative explanations for the experiential engagement with the Spirit. Pentecostals could not dismiss them as people who did not believe/understand. They patently did. They just explained their experience in a different way. So, for example, the significance of tongues changed. For most of the last century, tongues was viewed by Pentecostals as the initial evidence of being baptized in the Spirit. Now Pentecostals are having to come to terms with the implications of alliances they have made.

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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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