ZENIT News Agency, The World Seen from Rome
On Catholics and Pentecostals
A Historical Overview
VATICAN CITY, JULY 20, 2006 (Zenit.org).- Here is the report "Catholics
and Pentecostals: A Historical Overview," by Father Juan Usma Gómez,
official of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.
An April 2005 meeting in Los Angeles, U.S.A., commemorated the first centenary
of the Pentecostal Movement.
The chronicles recount that at the beginning of the 20th century, a group of
believers was expelled from the Second Baptist Church of Los Angeles because of
its constant insistence on the need for a spiritual revival. The search for
these revivals, a practice that has been more or less widespread in Protestant
milieus since the advent of Methodism in the 19th century, involved a special
kind of prayer and worship which, stimulated by intense preaching and prayer
meetings, often resulted in an upsurge of religious zeal.
In 1905, instead of breaking up and joining other Christian communities, this
little group of the faithful began to meet in a house on Bonnie Brae Street,
under the direction of William J. Seymour. There a new Pentecost was preached
and they prayed for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit, just like the one
described in the Acts of the Apostles (cf. Acts 2:1-21) (1).
Historians tell us that news of this initiative spread rapidly across the city
and that many other people joined the group. It soon became necessary for it to
relocate to larger premises on Azusa Street, where the Apostolic Faith Mission
was set up.
The first religious service took place on April 14, 1906. The story says that
it was actually in Azusa Street that a large number of the faithful experienced
the "personal Pentecost," in other words, that spiritual experience
generally recognized as the beginning of Pentecostalism, which was later to be
called "Baptism in the Holy Spirit."
Reactions to this event were varied and conflicting. Those who received the
"anointing" spoke of it as the sovereign touch of God, whereas
leaders of the Protestant and Evangelical Communities kept their distance,
fearing that such an experience could not have solid spiritual and doctrinal
Especially in light of the manifestations that accompanied it, they began to
doubt the "mental health" of the protagonists (2). Today, 100 years
after the events on Azusa Street, there are numerous Pentecostal groups, either
local or part of a real international network (3).
No organic institutional unity
Although they all describe themselves as Pentecostal, there are slight
structural differences between them; while three important trends can be
identified, there is no organic institutional unity among them nor a totally
representative world structure.
Many claim, on the other hand, that the spiritual unity which derives from
"Baptism in the Spirit" is a fundamental and sufficient bond.
In addition to the properly Pentecostal denominations (classical Pentecostals),
Pentecostal groups exist within the various Churches and ecclesial communities:
(denominational Pentecostals, such as the Catholic Charismatic Renewal); many
others define themselves as non--denominational, neo-charismatic and
To these can be added a long list of groups of a dubious ecclesial and
Christian character that can hardly be called religious but that carry out
activities using Pentecostal forms.
In 2005, it was calculated that there were 500 million Pentecostals.
Certain studies forecast a growth of 2.25% in comparison with the 1.23% (4)
increase in the world population. It should be noted that these figures also
include Christians who live Pentecostal spirituality in their own Churches and
those who occasionally come into contact with the Pentecostal reality. Also,
there are no statistics for those who have abandoned Pentecostalism.
During the 100 years of its existence, Pentecostalism has come into contact
with almost all Christian communities, but in different ways, as we will see
In fact, the openness of the first groups who offered the grace of
"Baptism in the Spirit" as a source of spiritual renewal was followed
by a clash in the area of mission due to the rejection by the other Christian
Communities: the Pentecostal certainty of salvation obtained through
"Baptism in the Spirit" and the fear of being found guilty by God for
failing to convert those who say they are Christians (but not Pentecostals)
obviously imbues Pentecostals with missionary zeal.
Pentecostals and Catholics
With regard to Catholics, this movement, born as a reaction to a "dead
orthodoxy" and a "Christian nominalism," has retained its
negative attitude: the identification of Rome with Babylon, inherited from the
Reformation, has not entirely disappeared.
The situation changed with the recognition of the Pentecostal experience within
the Christian communities and consequently does not make a change of ecclesial
affiliation necessary. Pentecostals recognize bonds of communion with
charismatics: they claim, in fact, that the Holy Spirit works excellently in
those believers who have received "Baptism in the Spirit"
independently of the Church to which they belong. But this spiritual unity,
which has given rise to certain missionary associations and alliances, does not
legitimize Christian Communities as such.
Catholics and Pentecostals meet all over the world and confront each other
everywhere. Aggression and diffidence have frequently been at the root of their
relations: the desire to convert clouds minds and hearts. Pentecostals have difficulty
in recognizing the saving value of the Catholic Church and of the sacraments,
whereas many Catholics view with suspicion the proliferation of divine
interventions and consider the promises of healing, prophecies and spiritual
gifts as forms of proselytism.
The Catholic-Pentecostal international dialogue began in 1972. It should be
remembered that 40 years ago, Catholics were in the dark about Pentecostal
spirituality and missiology. Nor did the majority of Pentecostals know of the
rich spirituality and missionary vitality of Catholics. Catholics and
Pentecostals were diffident and wary of each other.
The contact established between them, thanks to the appearance of Catholic
Charismatic Renewal together with the participation of a Pentecostal leader in
the Second Vatican Council (5), made it possible to initiate a dialogue with
several leaders and groups of the classical Pentecostals. This dialogue aimed
at deepening their knowledge of each other and at overcoming reciprocal
Today, through documents published for the International Catholic Pentecostal
Dialogue, Catholics and Pentecostals (6) can recognize certain confessional
traits proper to their dialogue partner and can understand the basic reasons
for some of their attitudes. The process is far from easy. Indeed, their
missiology and expression of spirituality are not the same, while their
approach to theology is radically different.
How does one become Christian?
These differences have emerged even more clearly in the current phase of
dialogue (the fifth, since the beginning of the conversations), which
addressed, in the context of biblical and patristic testimony, the theme of how
one becomes a Christian. Common and complementary points in faith, conversion,
the following of Christ, experience and formation were identified.
On the other hand, regarding "Baptism in the Spirit," a basic
experience for Pentecostals, doctrinal differences emerged within
Pentecostalism itself, together with the need for a pastoral rethinking, given
that not everyone has had this experience.
Many people consider Pentecostalism as the last fruit of the Reformation. Its
minimal ecclesial structure, missionary zeal, doctrinal simplicity and openness
to the "supernatural," as well as its cultural flexibility, strong
emotional connotation and ability to give rise to religious experiences, give
it a special character of its own.
The urgent need to have and to inspire the vital experience of the Holy Spirit
and the certainty of salvation explain part of its fascination and success. In
this regard, during the September 2005 (7) Study Seminar organized jointly in
Săo Paulo by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the
bishops' conference of Brazil, Cardinal Walter Kasper presented the bishops'
work, saying: "A critical examination of our pastoral conscience is
urgently necessary. We must ask ourselves: why are Catholics leaving our Church
and moving to these groups? What is lacking in our parishes? What can we learn
from the pastoral closeness of Pentecostals? What must we avoid?"
Whenever addressing Pentecostalism, it must be remembered that to Pentecostals,
having and awakening religious experiences is essential. The very fact that the
Pentecostal/Charismatic Movement is perceived as a new and definitive movement
of divine origin, a sign of the last times, and that it presents "Baptism
in the Spirit" as "an outpouring of the Holy Spirit that precedes the
coming of Jesus Christ" and is obligatory as such if one desires to be a
Christian, poses serious theological problems for Catholics.
It is clear to Catholics that the experience known as "Baptism in the Holy
Spirit" (totally distinct from the sacrament of baptism) is neither the
loftiest nor fullest form of experience of the Holy Spirit. It is one
experience among others that is a feature of a certain spirituality within
Christianity and demands serious and continuous spiritual and pastoral
discernment on the part of the Church.
(1) Cf. The New International Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic
Movements, Grand Rapids, 2001.
(2) A description from the press of the time is included in J. Usma, Catholics
and Pentecostals: the breath of the Spirit, in L'Osservatore Romano Italian
edition, n. 20, January 26, 2005.
(3) In which, among others, the Assemblies of God, the Quadrangular Church, the
Church of God, the Apostolic Faith Mission and the Open Standard Bible can be
(4) D. Barrett, T. Johnson and P. Crossing, Missiometrics 2005: A Global Survey
of World Mission, in "International Bulletin of Mission I", vol. 29,
January 2005, p. 29.
(5) The leader, David du Plessis, took part as a guest of the Secretariat for
Christian Unity in the third session of the Second Vatican Council.
(6) The two documents most recently published for this dialogue are
Perspectives on Koinonia (1990) and Evangelization, Proselytism and Common
(7) Further information on this meeting can be found in: "Study Seminar
organized in Brazil," L'Osservatore Romano Italian edition, November 4,
2005, p. 4.
[Translation transmitted by the electronic archives of the Holy See]
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