Pentecostalism, Continualism, and Globalization

This article is part one of a two part piece, “Globalization and The Broader Continualist Movement”.  Originally, both parts were a single research paper I submitted to Fuller Theological Seminary for a course on Globalization, the Poor, and Christian Mission.


In this piece, I will analyze the globalization of Christianity in the 21st century as it is largely dependent upon Continualism.  First, I will discuss the necessary definitions which assist in understanding the various facets of Continualism as a movement as well as its theological particularities and diversity. Secondly, I will discuss how Continualism came to prominence as a global evangelistic force in Christian missionary efforts in the last three centuries.  Thirdly, I will argue theologically that it is not Continualism as a ecclesiological movement within Christianity that is the cause of its rapid growth. Instead I will argue that it is result of the fulfillment of biblical prophecy as outlined in modern continualist pneumatology.  Fourthly, I will discuss the ecclesiological and missiological implications of this reality as it pertains to global evangelism and propose a hypothesis for the future of the globalization of Christianity.

Continualism Defined

Continualism or the continualist movement can be defined as those portions of Christianity which hold to the continued working of the Holy Spirit in humanity akin to the lukan account of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost in Acts chapter 2. Though there is tremendous theological diversity within continualism, the operation of the Holy Spirit in modern life through the Pauline “Gifts of the Spirit” ( 1 Corinthians 12;14) the Baptism in the Holy Spirit (held by the majority to be a separate occurrence from salvation), and speaking in tongues are the defining doctrinal and operational distinctive of what it means to be a continualist (Stetzer 2013).

Though the modern growth and globalization of Christianity is often attributed to the Pentecostal movement (Myers 2012), there exists a necessity to reframe this definition and how it is applied to Christian globalization.  Continualism as defined in this paper is the broader “Spirit-filled” movement of which Pentecostalism is a part, but not the total sum. 

What is Pentecostalism?

Though the term Pentecostal can often be used to refer to any persons who hold to continualist theology and praxis, such a definition is in error.  It can certainly, however, be said that the entirety of the continualist movement is historically rooted in the series of revivals which came about in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  These revivals culminated in one which began in 1906, commonly referred to as the “Azusa Street Revival” and it is this three-year event which is commonly regarded as the advent of modern pentecostalism (Bartleman 1980:ix).

As people from a variety of mainline denominational affiliations experienced the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at the Azusa Revival, doctrinal diversity (and with it, tension) arose, giving a felt need among the leadership for an outlined statement of belief.  The Reverend William Seymour, the pastor who is considered the spiritual figurehead of the revival quickly developed a working framework by which they defined the movement doctrinally and it is this framework which was the foundation upon which modern Pentecostalism is built. The five-fold emphasis of belief was: (1) justification by faith; (2) sanctification as a definite work of grace; (3) the baptism in (or with) the Holy Spirit as evidenced by speaking in tongues; (4) divine healing “as in the atonement”; and (5) dispensational premillennial eschatology (Bartleman 1980: xx).  In the years which followed, other theological particularities formed within various denominations such as the prohibition of alcohol (AG 2003: 149-157) and attitudes concerning pacifism (Alexander 2009:31), but Seymour’s five-fold have remained the backbone of Pentecostal theology.

It is worth noting that the doctrinal framework of the Azusa Street Revival is one which draws significantly more rigid heterodoxical lines than that of the original event at Pentecost as described by the lukan account in Acts.  It is the denominations which historically formed and thrive around Seymour’s five-fold framework which are Pentecostal by definition for the purpose of this piece.

The Others

Though within Continualism, Pentecostalism represents a significant and fast growing portion, it is not the totality of the movement, nor is it the only portion of the movement experiencing growth (Stetzer 2013).  The Charismatic movement, which came about within mainline denominations in the mid-twentieth century, represents a significant poriton of continualism.  Additionally, the late twentieth and twenty-first centuries have given rise to other continualist subcategories such as the Third Wave movement (Stetzer 2013) and the astronomical rise of the non-denominational movement, of which Spirit-filled churches represent a significant part (Stetzer 2015).

To truly understand the globalization of Christianity it is therefore necessary to define the rise of Spirit-filled Christianity, which is almost exclusively propelling Christianity’s growth in the twenty-first century, as to account for the entirety of the Spirit filled movement.  Pentecostalism is without a doubt the historic originator of this modern movement, but other branches have sprouted on the continualist tree to bestow upon the world a diverse Spirit-filled movement which extends beyond Pentecostalism.  To attribute Christian globalization to Pentecostalism alone draws conclusions which exclude the massive growth and global presence of those continualist movements who are not theologically Pentecostal but contribute to Christianity’s global growth in profound ways.

Working Definitions

Like many other sects of Christianity, continualism has a tendency to inconsistently use terms in accordance with their definitions.  For example, within Pentecostalism (which is the tradition from which I come), adherents will affectionately refer to all Spirit-filled believers as Pentecostals or casually employ the word Charismatic to be an all-encompassing catch-all.  However, the term Charismatic can be commonly used to refer to specific movements within continualism (such as the Rhema or Word of Faith Movements) or to the movement of the mid-to-late twentieth century historically termed “Charismatic Movement” or “Charismatic Renewal.”  Some within continualist non-denominational churches prefer the absence of either terms due to the diversity of associated meaning.  Because of the relative ambiguity of these terms in colloquial expression, it is important that concrete definitions are explained for the purpose of this piece.  Pentecostalism will be used to refer to the continualist denominations and adherents which came about out of the Azusa Street Revival and whose theological framework is largely associated with Seymour’s five-fold framework (the Assemblies of God, Church of God (Cleveland, TN), Foursquare Church, etc).  Charismatic will refer to the continualist movement which moved through mainline denominations in the mid-twentieth century and those networks and cooperative fellowships commonly associated with the term (Word of Faith, Vineyard Movement, the International House of Prayer, Bethel Church (Redding, CA) etc).  Those who fall outside either definition (Spirit-filled non-denominational churches, the Third Wave movement, etc.) will either be specifically addressed or grouped with the rest within the term continualism. Terms such as Spirit-filled will be used synonymously alongside continualism as a generalization of the movement.

The Globalization of Continualism

Early Pentecostalism experienced both internal and external antagonisms.  Early Pentecostals differed vehemently within their own ranks on doctrinal matters such as the glossolalia as initial evidence for Spirit Baptism, the nature of sanctification, and the governance of its newly forming congregations (McGee 2004:28).  Externally, many denominations severely opposed those within its ranks “receiving the Holy Ghost” or drew concerns about other doctrinal or practical associations with the movement and many left or were disfellowshipped from mainline denominations.  Yet, early Pentecostalism experienced explosive growth in its early years and continues to experience annual growth after one hundred years since the Azusa Street Revival. 

One of the most significant causes for this growth, especially on a global scale, is Pentecostalism’s deep-rooted commitment to personal evangelism and foreign missionary work.  Drawing from Holiness Movement influencers such as John Wesley, early Pentecostals prioritized evangelization to such an extent as had been rarely witnessed since the first century Church.  Dr. Allan Anderson made note that early Pentecostals:

“…saw the world as their parish, the space into which they were to expand. They were convinced they would overcome all obstacles through the power of the Spirit and defeat Satan and conquer its territory—the world.  This was the transnational, universal orientation that was an essential part of Pentecostalism from its beginnings” (Anderson 2006).

Such missiological prioritization caused significant growth, particularly in the Assemblies of God USA (AG USA) which, founded in 1914, swelled to over half a million members by 1960 and now has over three million adherents in the United States (AG 2015).  Perhaps what is most impressive is, because of the Pentecostal commitment to missions work abroad, there are at present now more Pentecostals outside of the United States than inside of it.  There are now six times the number of AG adherents in Brazil than in the United States (AG 2008) while the AG USA reported in 2015 its twenty-fifth year of consecutive growth while most mainline denominations in the United States are experiencing decline (VanVeen 2015).

The Charismatic Renewal

Roughly half a century after Azusa, there began a movement within mainline denominations of people who fell outside of the theological parameters of Pentecostalism but still experienced events of “Spirit-Baptism” and the coinciding miraculous signs and wonders like their Pentecostal brothers and sisters had described.  The birth of this movement, now referred to as the Charismatic Renewal, has now grown to over 305 million people worldwide as of 2011 (Pew 2011).  The Charismatic Renewal is considered to have been birthed not twenty miles from the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Azusa fifty-four years earlier, when Dennis Bennett declared to the laity of Saint Mark’s Episcopal Church in Van Nuys, CA, that he had experienced a Spirit Baptism event (Stetzer 2013).

Many mainline denominations, in particular the Anglican Communion/Episcopal Church, experienced significant periods of continualist renewal in the 1960s and 1970s.  Even Justin Welby, the current Archbishop of Canterbury, is a Spirit-filled evangelical who speaks in tongues (Stetzer 2013).  The Roman Catholic Church also has a movement within its membership, the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, which as of 2013 reported over 160 million adherents (Nucci 2013).  Many Reformed and Calvinist theologians such as Wayne Grudem (Grudem 1994:784) and prominent pastors such as John Piper (Stetzer 2013) have adopted continualist theology. With cessationism in marked decline (Stetzer, 2013) it is unlikely the trend of rapid growth of continualism will wane any time soon.  It is rather more likely that the increased normalcy of Spirit-filled praxis, and the continued prioritization of global missiological efforts (successful efforts, at that) will be contributing forces to continualist Christianity rising as the dominant expression of Christianity in the future.

The Globalization of Continualism Today

Though the current growth of Pentecostal denominations, particularly the Assemblies of God (which is the largest) cannot be overlooked, such a reality is a part a larger continualist phenomena.  Pentecostalism, though a part, is not the total sum.  The non-denominational movement, for example, which has grown over 400% in the United States in the last four decades (Stetzer 2015) and is comprised of many churches who, though non-denominational in organizational affiliation, remain continualist in belief.

Statistically, worldwide Charismatics and other non-Pentecostal continualists comprise a significant portion of the Christian landscape.  Dr. Warren Bird’s compilation of the world’s megachurches (defined by Bird as churches with over 2,000 in average attendance) reveals that of the 3.9 million Christian adherents who attend megachurches (not including North America), roughly 59 percent (2.3 million) attended an overtly continualist congregation.  Of that 2.3 million, 38 percent attended non-Pentecostal continualist churches (which represents 22 percent of the surveyed whole).

To look at the numbers of megachurch congregations outside of North America, there were 302 megachurches reported, 77 (25 percent) were Pentecostal while 70 (23 percent) were non-Pentecostal continualist (Leadership Network 2014).  Among the ten largest megachurches in the United States, only two are overtly continualist in doctrine and practice (Gateway Church led by Pastor Robert Morris and Church of the Highlands led by Pastor Chris Hodges), neither of which are Pentecostal (Hartford 2010).  Such statistics reveal a conclusive reality that non-Pentecostal continualism represents a significant portion of the continualist contribution to the globalization of Christianity and its global presence as a whole.

Additionally, the trending global growth among non-denominational continualist churches presents another front on which the Continualist movement is rapidly growing globally, often through church planting efforts.  Openly continualist non-denominational networks of churches like the Birmingham, Alabama headquartered Association of Related Churches (ARC), has been a leading force for church planting in North America, planting over 500 churches since 2001 and having reported over 300,000 decisions to follow Jesus (ARC 2015).  As of 2015 ARC has globalized its church planting efforts to work with national churches in China, Switzerland, Ireland, and Australia to broaden its global reach.

It takes little to make a case that from the fourth century until the Azusa Revival of there was little expression of continualism within the Christian Church (McGee 2004:16).  In the decades following Azusa, the occurrence of Spirit Baptism and Christians regularly operating in the Pauline “gifts of the Spirit” was almost exclusively within Pentecostal denominations.  But in the latter half of the twentieth century until present such reality is in the past.  Continualism is a practice which now spills over denominational lines and has contributed to explosive growth in the globalization of Christianity.  Whereas colonization in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries brought the center of Christendom from Europe to North America, the evangelization of the nineteenth, twentieth, and twenty-first centuries has brought the center of Christianity to Latin America, Europe, and Africa.  Such evangelization has largely been continualist in orientation.  Such globalization efforts have certainly been made in part by Pentecostalism, but significant portions of Spirit-filled Christianity which do not identify with Pentecostal theological distinctive or organizational affiliations, are making significant impact as well.

Part two discussing the theological and missiological implications of the globalization of continualism will be available on Monday.



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Todd Korpi (@toddkorpi) and his wife Tara planted and pastor The Cathedral, a life-giving church in Flint, Michigan. Todd and Tara live in downtown Flint with their three daughters and a golden retriever named Karl Barth. Todd has a passion for helping urban church planters, particularly in the rust belt of the northern United States. He has a B.S. in Church Ministries from Evangel University and is currently finishing a M.A. in Global Leadership at Fuller Theological Seminary. His debut book, "The Life Giving Spirit: The Victory of Christ in Missional Perspective" is scheduled to be released in March 2017. Find out more about Todd and The Cathedral at

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