In their book, Global Pentecostalism: The New Face of Christian Social Engagement, author’s Miller and Yamamori discuss the rapid growth of Pentecostalism in the developing world. Global Pentecostalism is one of the fastest growing religious movements in the world today. My exposure to the Pentecostal church thus far has been negative, so I approached this book with skepticism. As I’ve broadened my worldview, I realize that the greater Pentecostal movement looks vastly different from what I’d experienced in the local Pentecostal church here in my small town in the U.S..
Miller and Yamamori describe Pentecostals as feeling ‘called’ by the Holy Spirit, and acting from the leading of the Spirit is central to their beliefs. According to Pew Research, Pentecostalism has nearly 300 million followers worldwide and it is becoming a global phenomenon. Pentecostals are deeply concerned with social justice, and believe that the Holy Spirit is moving among people and directing them to make a difference in their communities. Miller and Yamamori give many examples of Progressive Pentecostals, such as those who are working to confront the AIDs pandemic in Africa. Although Pentecostalism has roots in America, most of the growth is occurring in non-western parts of the word. The movement attracts the poor, as there is a message of hope and empowerment.
Last year, my son was invited to play drums at a church that we were unfamiliar with. When we got there, it was a Pentecostal church in a struggling community. That evening, the church was filled with women who had come for a conference. They gave testimonies of deep struggles. This was not a wealthy church. The message preached had subtle ‘name it claim it’ tones throughout. At one point, the speaker alluded to the fact that a spirit filled life might one day bring that ‘new car’ blessing. There were three offerings collected, and at one point it was announced that the credit card machine was available to collect tithes. I know that this story doesn’t reflect the situation at all Pentecostal churches, but it is a common enough scenario to warrant a bit of skepticism of the growing number of people claiming to be Pentecostal.
This summer, I visited an amazing Pentecostal ministry in Hong Kong. Many lives have been changed through the organization. However, I became concerned when they explained that clients are welcomed to the organization after they accept an infilling of the Holy Spirit, as evidenced by speaking in tongues. This made me wonder how many people were faking ‘tongues’ so that they can benefit from the services of the organization. In high school, my family began attending a charismatic church. I saw first hand that ‘spirituality’ demonstrated in church could also be used as a way to control others by making them feel unworthy. When I grew up, I wanted nothing to do with this type of religion. I saw it breed much hurt and hypocrisy.
Miller and Yamamori identified that many of the Pentecostal movements are lead by charismatic leaders. They are visionary and confident. But, they are also authoritarian. People follow when they say, ‘this is what the Lord is telling us to do’. This opens the door to much abuse of power and control of people. Although Pentecostalism is a large and growing movement, Miller and Yamamori claim it is unruly. The future is still uncertain. I have to wonder if the movement is growing so rapidly because of social services and the false sense of hope that is propagated. What happens when people’s life and economic issues don’t disappear solely because they’ve asked Jesus into their heart? Miller and Yamamori point out that most movements are addressing problems at their doorstep, in contrast to seeking systemic change and fixing the root cause of issues.
I don’t deny the power of the Holy Spirit to work in people’s life. In fact, I believe that the Pentecostal movement may be sparking a much-needed revival in the church. Sometimes we are so logical and academic in our approach to religion, that we neglect the leading of the Holy Spirit. We lack emphasis on the spiritual dimension of worship. Many mainstream churches neglect to emphasize the work of the Spirit, and fail to engage with people in a meaningful way. There is much to learn from this Pentecostal movement. People expect the church to care those in need and to do meaningful work in their community. There is a hunger for change and to find meaning in this fast moving world.
 Donald E. Miller and Tetsunao Yamamori, Global Pentecostalism: The New Face of Christian Social Engagement (University of California Press: Berkeley, CA, 2007).
 Donald E. Miller and Tetsunao Yamamori, Global Pentecostalism: The New Face of Christian Social Engagement (University of California Press: Berkeley, CA, 2007) 213.