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Vinson Synan: The Second Comers


Vinson Synan, “Pentecostal Millennialism: The Second Comers: At first, the gift of tongues meant one thing: Jesus was returning soon” Christian History, Issue 61, pp. 38-39

The Christianity Today publication Christian History has recently featured an issue on the history of eschatology, answering the question: What have believers taught and believed about the return of Christ? Among the various essays appears a brief article by historian Vinson Synan of Regent University, perhaps best known for his recent book The Holiness Pentecostal Tradition (Eerdmans, 1997).

Professor Synan says that for the early Pentecostals, the reemergence of the gift of tongues meant Jesus was returning soon. Although the Pentecostal movement has come to be known by others for being a tongues movement (see Robert Graves’ article in this issue about this), Synan states that early on it was more a Jesus-is-coming movement.

In this article subtitled “Pentecostal Millennialism,” Synan briefly sketches the beginnings of the Pentecostal movement, mentioning its major figures including Agnes Ozman, Charles Fox Parham, William J. Seymour, and George Floyd Taylor. Also spoken of are the proto-Pentecostal stirrings in England of the 1830’s and their link to the development of dispensational eschatology which emphasizes the Rapture. Two topics that are briefly explained in their historical context are the early Pentecostal’s concepts of xenoglossolalia, otherwise known as missionary tongues, and of tongues being the “sealing” of the Holy Spirit thereby qualifying them for the Rapture.

One note of interest is the editor’s caption appearing under a dynamic picture of people gathered at the altar at Brownsville Assembly of God, “Come Again? Early Pentecostals focused less on tongues and more on what the tongues were saying. At the 1906 Azusa Street Revival, William Seymour reported, ‘”Jesus is coming soon” is the message that the Holy Ghost is speaking today through nearly everyone that receives the baptism with the Holy Ghost.’ This emphasis was especially evident in England where Pentecostals were usually called ‘Second Comers.’ More recently, Pentecostal churches such as Brownsville Assembly of God in Pensacola, Florida, have downplayed prophetic themes.” Although this editor is by no means an expert on the teachings of Brownsville Assembly of God, I am unaware that they downplay the Assemblies of God’s denominational emphasis on last things and the Rapture. Perhaps what is discouraged is the idea that “this revival” is the last great revival before the Lord’s return, a teaching popular among many in the charismatic prophetic movement.

While this issue of Christian History may not be a good introduction to eschatology, it is fascinating reading for any amateur church historian and those interested in the development of doctrines in the church. As with all issues, the articles are generally even-handed, extremely readable and informative.

Reviewed by Raul Mock

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Category: Church History, Summer 1999

About the Author: Raul L. Mock is one of the founders and directors of the Pneuma Foundation and editor of The Pneuma Review. Raul has been part of an Evangelical publishing ministry since 1996, working with Information Services and Supply Chain Management for more than two decades. He and his wife, Erin, have a daughter and twin boys and live in the Grand Rapids, Michigan area. LinkedIn

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