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By Prof. Michael Ogunu
President of the Executive Board of the World Apostolate of Fatima in Africa

What is Pentecostalism?

The word ‘Pentecostalism’ can be understood in two ways. The first refers to “certain elements of the Christian life, usually associated with the feast of Pentecost and Christ’s gifts of the Spirit” (Walsh, 1983:3). These elements include the charismatic ministries of the Holy Spirit manifested on the day of Pentecost in Acts of the Apostles, Chapter 2; and also those outlined by St. Paul in 1 Cor. 12:14. They are called Pentecostalism because the Holy Spirit began these manifestations in the Church on the day of Pentecost. They include speaking in tongues, healing, miracles, discern­ment of spirits, prophecy, wisdom and understanding (1 Cor. 12:1-9). Understood in this sense, Pentecostalism is the experience of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Catholic Church – an experience that is brought into focus every year when the Church celebrates the feast of Pentecost. The word is seldomly used in this sense.

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Pentecostalism can also be understood as a movement towards the activities of the Holy Spirit outside the Catholic Church. It is in this sense that David Crystal uses the term when he defines it in The Barnes and Noble Encyclopedia as “A modern Christian renewal movement inspired by the descent of the Holy Spirit experienced by the Apostles at the first Christian Pentecost (Acts 2). It is marked by the reappearance of speaking in tongues, prophecy, and healing”. It is in this later sense that the term will be used in this article.

Origin of Pentecostalism

The Pentecostal movement began towards the end of the nineteenth century as a sect within North American Protestantism, promoted principally by Baptist and Methodist preachers. As early as 1886 the “Latter Rain Movement” was founded in an American Baptist Community. It preached a new, last outpouring of the Holy Spirit before the return of Christ. Some years later (1892) the first ecstatic phenomena appeared among Baptists at Liberty, Tennessee in the United States after they had received what they called “Baptism of the Spirit”.

The Baptist Free Church excommunicated those concerned and a Methodist minister formed them into the “Holiness Church”, which later adopted the title “Church of God”. A whole series of similar foundations with the same name followed. One that acquired part­icular importance was the Pentecostal Community started by the Negro Pastor Seymour at Los Angeles in 1906. It spread to a number of other American States and to Europe as well. The individual Pentecostal Churches in the United States united in lose federations as “Assemblies of God” and “Churches of God”. Later on, some also began using the name “Pentecostal Church”.

Initially these groups claimed that their followers directly felt the same grace of the Holy Spirit that was manifested in the charisms of the early Christians, for example, the gift of tongues and of healing. Those Pentecostal communities taught that it is possible to be completely exempt from sin on earth. They preached an enthusiastic way of living piety which was often linked to ecstasy. Their Christianity had no dogmas because they consi­dered that the Holy Spirit inspires the faithful directly in all that is necessary for salvation.

These Pentecostals also hold that the Holy Spirit intervenes directly in the private interpretation of the Bible, a principle common to all sects and denominations of protestant origin. Hence they do not recognise the existence of a magisterium enlightened by God. Rather they leave everything to religious individualism, especially in regard to the interpretation of the exact meaning of the word of God. There are countless protestant Pentecostal groups vying with one another in their emotional extremism. Within the diversity of their potentially infinite doctrinal views, the diff­erent sects coincide in rejecting infant baptism and also confirma­tion. Instead they call for a “baptism of the Spirit”.

Within the institutionalized protestant sects, charismatic groups were first set up among the Episcopalians in California (1958), then in the Lutheran Church in the United States (1962) and five years later among Presbyterians. Here too, these different protestant sects affirmed that one can experience the phenomenon of speaking in strange tongues, that is, glossolalia. The first groups to accept the phenomenon were the Baptists and the Methodists, from which the two founders of the Pentecostal Church had been expelled in 1892.

By 1963, speaking in strange tongues was fully in vogue in American Protestantism. That same year after serious study, James Pike, the Episcopalian Bishop of California, prohibited his subjects from participating in Pentecostal meetings and declared that manifestations of glossolalia (speaking in tongues) were of natural origin and constituted a grave danger for the Christian faith of those who cultivated them.

Monsignor Konrad Algermissen, a pioneer of Catholic Ecumenical studies in his verdict on the Pentecostal movement, declared that “there can be no question of a second outpouring of the Holy Spirit bestowed through ‘Baptism of the Spirit’ or ‘anointing of the spirit’. Man, who is born again through grace and baptism or penance, and is thus objectively sanctified cannot attain here on earth, the perfect subjective sinlessness and sanctity promised to its members by the Pentecostal movement”.

Catholic Charismatic Movement

The Pentecostal or Charismatic Movement began among Catholics in 1966 with Ralph Keifer and Patrick Bourgeois, laymen and lectur­ers in Theology at Duquesne Catholic University in Pittsburgh in the United States.

Both men attended a Congress of the Cursillo where they met Steve Clark and Ralph Martin who were student activists in St. John’s Parish, East Lansing, Michigan, U. S. A.      By this time Steve was reading a book titled “The Cross and the Switch Blade”written by a Protestant Pastor, David Wilkerson. This book describes how the pastor (Wilkerson) out of his inner impulse abandoned his parish ministry with its salary to minister to drug addicts, prostitutes, alcoho­lics and juvenile delinquents, in the slums of New York. Another book which influenced them was the one read by Ralph Keifer titled “They Speak in Other Tongues”by John Sherrill. The book describes the history of the Pentecostal Communities and spiritual renewal within protestant denominations. “In their struggles with apathy and unbelief among college students, they (Keifer and Bourgeois) realised they needed the kind of power that Wilkerson seemed to possess”.

“The Cross and the Switch Blade” made it clear to them that “The Holy Spirit is what they needed for such a marvellous act of Christian charity and strong zeal for Christian activities”.

Ignoring the Catholic Bishop of Pittsburgh, John Wright, Keifer and Bourgeois consulted an Episcopalian Pastor named Lewis who referred them to a Protestant Pentecostal prayer group.

At the prayer meeting of the group on January 13th, 1967, they requested baptism of the Holy Spirit and were excited to discover that they could speak in strange tongues.

Returning to Desquesne University, they initiated other Catholics into the Pentecostal rite, and the movement grew rapidly. Soon there were also groups at the University of Notre Dame and other Catholic centres. The movement came to Nigeria in 1974.

Characteristics of Pentecostalism

Fr. Gregory Ogbenika, in a paper titled “The Issue of Born Again in Contemporary Pentecostal Churches” outlines the following characteristics of Pentecostalism: (i) Baptism of the Holy Spirit; (ii) Christian life without sin; (iii) Speaking in Tongues; (iv) Bible Christianity; (v) Gospel of prosperity; (vi) Miracles, Signs and Wonders, and (vii) The issue of “Born Again” which will bring about the fulfilment of the preceding experience in any believer.

Owing to limitations of space, only two of the above characteristics – ‘Baptism of the Holy Spirit’ and ‘Speaking in Tongues’ will be explained at this juncture.

Baptism of the Spirit

What is Baptism of the Spirit?

The Charismatics say that it is not a sacrament. They assert that it must not be confused with Baptism or with Confirmation.

Somewhat less explicitly, however, they also say that the Baptism received by children does not achieve its fullness unless it is renewed by the baptism of the Spirit administered to them when they are adults.

In “Catholic Pentecostals”by Kevin and Dorothy Ranaghan, we find this reference to baptism in the Holy Spirit: “The Baptism in the Holy Spirit is a basic part of our Christian initiation. For Catholics this experience is a renewal, making our initiation as children concrete and explicit on a mature level”.

There is no basis at all in Catholic doctrine which could permit one to maintain that the ambiguous “Baptism in the Holy Spirit” is a part of Christian initiation. Moreover to say that true Baptism, is an “initiation” which needs to be made “concrete and explicit” later by a non-Sacramental rite, is clearly contrary to the teaching of the Church.

Speaking (Prayer) in Tongues

When they speak of prayer in tongues, the Charismatics refer to the manifestation of the purported gift of tongues to which they give primordial importance (J. Navano-Valls, “The Charismatic Renewal Movement”, Apostolate of Catholic Truth, London, n.d. p. 7).

This phenomenon normally takes place at charismatic prayer meetings. It starts as a rising crescendo of voices, beginning like the humming of a swarm of bees and swelling into unintelligi­ble sounds – supposedly the Holy Spirit speaking through one, or a dozen or even thousands of people. The articulated sounds are usually unintelligible to the rest of the people present – one of the leaders has to translate its meaning to the others.

The translator exercises his function by virtue of having claimed to have received the gift of interpretation. The impor­tance which the Pentecostals attribute to this phenomenon can be deduced from the fact that until recently it was considered to be the definite proof that the effusion of the Holy Spirit had taken place.

Currently, however, some Pentecostal groups no longer consider this babbling of unintelligible sounds to be a test of the presumed reception of the Spirit.

“It is striking”, says Navano-Valls, “that the purported gift of tongues is usually expressed in sounds which no one understands except the person who interprets, and that because he has received the gift of interpretation. The complexity of the process, having an interpreter as an intermediate stage, seems in some ways like an ancient phenomenon of oracles in the pagan mystery cults”.

If, as the Charismatics claim, speaking in tongues and baptism of the Spirit are a vital manifestation of the Spirit’s power and sign of His presence, how do we account for the fact that there is no record of them within the Church for more than eighteen centuries? Did the Holy Spirit abandon the Church all that time? Why did the sub-apostolic Church repudiate extraordinary charisms, and allow them to die out? Were the great saints and Spiritual guides during these long years all blind to some of the more significant manifestations of the Spirit’s power?

Did the Holy Spirit pass over Benedict, Francis, Dominic, Catherine of Siena, Ignatius of Loyola, Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, Therese of Lisiéux, and all the others to rest on groups of students in a U.S. University? “The Spirit breathes where He wills”, Charismatics will say and “God is no respecter of persons”. True, but isn’t it strange that almost two thousand years passed by before He manifested Himself again in the Church?

Why Catholics Drift to Pentecostal Churches

Any serious attempt at assessing the effects of Pentecostalism on the Catholic faithful must begin not only with an understanding of what pentecostalism is but also with the basic issue of why Catholics go to Pentecostal Churches.

There are various reasons why some Catholics leave their Church and go to Pentecostal Churches. The “Instrumentum Laboris” for the Synod for Africa mentions the following “attractions”:

Healing and care for the sick; ability to deal with evil spirits and witches; search for palpable salvation; desire to know scripture and the word of God better; attractive and persuasive preaching; quest for spiritual experiences of another kind; thirst for knowledge; strong sense of community and brotherhood; mutual help of a material kind given in a spirit of solidarity; an inculturated liturgy, which gives free expression to feelings in prayer.

Fr. Donatus Udoette in a paper titled “The Catholic Charismatic Renewal of Nigeria in the age of the New Religious Movements” presented at the Conference of the Catholic Theological Association of Nigeria in Enugu (April 1 – 4, 1997), observes that among the outstanding characteristics of the new religious movements (including Pentecostals) which have made it possible for them to continue to proliferate, expand and attract members from all sectors of the Nigeria society and from the old mission churches are: (1) Lively and dynamic mode of worship; (2) Centrality of the bible; (3) Emphasis on healing and wholeness; (4) Prophecy and visions; (5) Brotherhood and togetherness.

Let us examine these factors:

  1. Lively and dynamic mode of worship

Many well-meaning Catholics have posited that one of the most important reasons why Catholics leave their Church and go to Pentecostal Churches is the latter’s fulfilling mode of worship. “Contrary to the rather dull, formalized and stylized mode of worship in the mainline Churches (including the Catholic Church), the new religious movements adopt a mode of worship which is dynamic and lively and which strongly appeals to Africans because it suits their socio-cultural context. Worship in these Churches:

is uninhibited and exuberant;

it can last for hours, and a large part of this time is spent shouting, singing, savaging, clapping, dancing, moving around the Church. Some of the praying will be in tongues. Some present may be weeping, even in trance-like states. The service is thoroughly experiential; it can truly be called a celebration.

There is no doubt says Fr. Udoette that such lively mode of worship is appealing to Africans who by nature are very lively and dynamic, and who have come to see the mainline Churches as dull, uninteresting, and incapable of carrying them along as Africans.

  1. Centrality of the Bible

Pentecostals place a very high premium on the Bible as the word of God and as the centre and foundation of their religious and daily life. Their members read the Bible assiduously, devouring and savouring every word. Pastors in these Churches preach with their Bibles in hand, and members attend services with their Bibles, marking, undertaking, and quoting relevant passages as their pastors indicate to them from the pulpit.

Some Catholics do not know and understand the Catholic faith they profess. All they know is what they learnt at Catechism classes for their Baptism or Confirmation. Many do not even understand the Holy Eucharist (Holy Mass) and do not actively participate in it. For such Catholics, the Holy Mass is a dull routine they are obliged to attend every Sunday in order not to go to hell.

  1. Emphasis on Healing and Wholeness

Many Catholics go to Pentecostal Churches because of the emphases they place on healing and wholeness which tallies with the traditional cosmological conception of the universe. Nigerians, like other Africans, believe that sickness “is not caused by bacteria or by defective bodily organs but by spiritual beings which work through people and events and through objects”. Whereas the mainline Churches sometimes neglect this traditional understanding of the causes of illness and misfortune, says Fr. Udoette, the new religious movements accept them whole and entire and try spiritually to offer solutions in order to free people from their problems. They recognise the existence of malignant spiritual powers, especially witches, who afflict people with various kinds of ailments. They also hold witches and evil spirits responsible for incurable diseases, and if any epidemic breaks up in a village or town, they attribute it to these evil forces or the ill-will of some people against others.

  1. Prophecy and Visions

Prophecy and Visions are elements in the Pentecostal Churches which appeal very strongly to some Catholics. These Churches regard prophecy and visions as means of looking into the future or of revealing the causes of what is actually happening in the present, example – sickness or misfortune. ‘Prophets’ in these Churches claim to be specially inspired by God, and so act as God’s messengers or vice regents to the people. Their words are not doubted since they are believed to be agents of God who speak with the authority of God Himself.

As observed by Dr. (Mrs.) Akele, “Our people are emotional and superstitious. We are more or less first generation Christians and as such, we still like to hear people seeing visions for us – something similar to the oracle playing from which we are supposed to be converted”.

  1. Brotherhood and Togetherness

Some Catholics go to Pentecostal Churches because of the seeming inability or unpreparedness of their Church to fill the void in their lives. In the urban areas where individualism and anonymity reign, Pentecostal Churches provide solace for the lonely and comfort for the broken hearted. Members of these Churches are encouraged to regard one another as brothers and sisters and to encourage, support, and sympathize with one another in difficult circumstances. Visiting of the sick members of these Churches, for example, is not left to their Pastors but is the business of anybody who feels called individually “to rejoice with those who weep”. In this way relationships are transformed and people really feel wanted and at home with one another.

People leave the Catholic Church because of lack of enough concern for Church members in times of difficulty. Sometimes, the impression is given that all the Church is interested in is to collect money (levies, dues, etc.) from members and nothing more.

Closely allied to the foregoing is bad leadership. Cruelty, insensitivity, gross materialism, tribalism, poor human relations, financial mismanagement or misappropriation and moral scandal are some of the ills that turn the weary pilgrim out of the Church to wherever else he believes he can find salvation.

Some leave because they do not see in the Church enough manifestation of the power of God. There are others who leave because they find the doctrines and teachings of the Church especially on marriage (indissolubility) too hard for them to follow.

There are also many who are looking for immediate solutions to their problems and the Pentecostal Churches promise this. “These Churches practice positive thinking” says Dr. (Mrs.) Akele. “Their profound knowledge of the bible is a strong weapon and you and I know that if one can remain sinless as much as possible, then the promises made by God in the Bible can be ours, because He is not a lying God”.

So by the time a few of the problems of the weak Catholics are solved by fasting and prayer, they then build up their own faith and confidence in the word of God by studying the Bible more.

(To be continued).


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