What are Pentecostal and Charismatic Churches?
Let’s start with Pentecostal. There are more than 275 million members in Pentecostal churches worldwide, making a large portion of Christian denominations.
The main distinction between Pentecostal Churches and churches of other denominations is their belief in speaking in tongues. Speaking in tongues, or Glossolalia (GLOSS-OH-LAY-LEE-UH) in the Pentecostal understanding, is where a person speaks what to others sounds like gibberish, but is said to be the person speaking in a heavenly or angelic language.
The Wesleyan Holiness movement, from which Methodism sprang, was the ground from which Pentecostal churches sprang in the early 20th century. Those who stayed in the holiness movement broadly rejected the teaching of Pentecostal churches. However, Pentecostal churches hold to many similar teachings to Methodists due to this common connection. For example, Methodists teach the concept of a “Second work of Grace” or “Second blessing”, which in Methodism is generally thought to be “entire sanctification” or “Christian perfectionism,” that a person is made “perfect in love” and has reached total maturity. The change that Pentecostalism worked on this basic doctrine was the idea of a following “third work of Grace”, where a person is baptized with the holy spirit, manifested by them speaking in tongues.
All Pentecostal denominations believe in this baptism with the Holy Spirit and resulting tongues-speaking, but early on the Pentecostal movement was split in two by a doctrine called “the finished work.” Those who held to “finished work” teaching rejected the idea of the second work, that a person needed to go through entire sanctification before they could receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Assemblies of God and the Church of the Foursquare Gospel, two large Pentecostal denominations reject the Wesleyan entire sanctification second work, while the Church of God Cleveland Tennessee, Church of God in Christ, and the Pentecostal holiness church retain it.
Some Pentecostal denominations teach that a person can only know they are saved through speaking in tongues, and a few say that unless you speak in tongues you are not saved. But it is this tongue-speaking which makes a denomination Pentecostal.
“Charismatic” is a slightly broader term. “Pentecostal” refers to a theology held to by a group of denominations, whereas “Charismatic” is commonly used to describe the “Charismatic movement.” This “Charismatic movement” began in the 1960s, and is characterized by people and churches within non-Pentecostal denominations accepting speaking in tongues and the other spiritual gifts found in 1 Corinthians 12:8-10:
For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit; to another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues:
Charismatics, like Pentecostals accepts the legitimacy of speaking in tongues to the present. However, unlike Pentecostals, Charismatics do not necessarily consider speaking in tongues to be synonymous with or an evidence of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Many in the Charismatic movement hold the Evangelical view that the receiving of the Holy Spirit comes at salvation, and so a later speaking in tongues is not equated to Spirit baptism. Some churches teach the laying on of hands to receive these spiritual gifts.
As the Charismatic movement progressed, charismatic church members found that they could stay within their denominations instead of leaving and joining Pentecostal churches. This mainly took place in mainline churches, which tend to hold looser doctrinal control over the membership, while Evangelical churches were more prone to restrict charismatic tendencies. As a result, those in Evangelical churches who became charismatic would end up leaving their churches to start evangelical charismatic denominations, such as Calvary Chapel or the Vineyard Churches.
A portion of Pentecostal churches, such as the United Pentecostal Church International (UPCI) and Pentecostal Assemblies of the World (PAW) are known as “oneness” Pentecostals. These churches have deviated from Christianity in that they reject the doctrine of the trinity, one God in three persons, for a modalist belief in God as only one person or center of consciousness, Jesus, but expressing himself in different ways.
Churches that reject the idea that all the miraculous spiritual gifts are available today are called “cessationist”, while those who accept that some are still available are called “continuationist.” Continuationist churches are often not Pentecostal or Charismatic.
For example, a majority of Evangelical Free churches are continuationist, but none are charismatic. They would accept the theoretical idea that speaking in tongues could continue to the present, but would reject that what takes place in Pentecostal or Charismatic churches is legitimate. They would accept that a person could be given the power to miraculously heal today, but reject the healers in Pentecostal or Charismatic circles have that power.
Pentecostal churches often look mostly Evangelical, holding to the inerrancy of scripture, requiring a born again experience, and believing in a literal heaven and hell. Independent Charismatic churches also will commonly fit this mold. Churches within mainline denominations that are Charismatic will look more like the mainline denominations they are a part of. There are also Charismatic Catholics, and charismatics in other religious groups.
Some denominations will simply use the term “charismatic” to refer to anyone who accepts the validity of all the gifts of the Spirit for today, and with that definition, Pentecostals are charismatic.