Thanks for the label! Lest thou thinketh me sarcastic, let me assure you that I am serious.
Labels often get a bad reputation, but let’s face it, we all need labels. Take the labels off all the cans in your pantry and see if your spouse is pleased. While labels can be misused and unfairly applied, they can also be quite healthy and useful. Labels help us put handles on things that are hard to carry. Handles give us a way to not only lift an object and engage with it, they can also help us open things that may be otherwise difficult. Labels give us reference points, a way to look at something that helps us make sense of it. In their book Global Pentecostalism: The New Face of Christian Social Engagement, Donald E. Miller and Tetsunao Yamamori do an excellent job of labeling something that would be more allusive without a descriptive point of reference. The label “Progressive Pentecostalism” helps me wrap my mind around something that I have experienced, observed, and tried to explain over the past few years.
Coming from a non-Pentecostal background, I often hear Pentecostalism criticized. Miller and Yamamori mention a couple of the criticism I often hear; being too legalistic and otherworldly and adhering to a Prosperity Gospel. Living in Latin America for a decade gave me plenty of opportunities to experience first-hand the reality of these criticisms. I frequently encountered churches and individuals that were more concerned about the length of a dress than the content of one’s heart. Lifestyle, engaging in Scripture, or spiritual formation were not important. As long as one had a “spiritual” experience, they were ok. I also encountered the wake of devastation left by the Prosperity Gospel. I met with church leaders who were left to pick up the pieces of heart-broken, disappoint people following a Benny Hinn rally. They gave all they could, yet they were not rich, healed, or whatever else they were promised. I recently had a conversation with a friend who serves in a remote village in South Sudan. He frequently is confronted with people who are exposed to a Prosperity Gospel. They tell him, “There is no God because I am still poor and stuck in the slums.” Miller and Yamamori point out that, “the founding pastors of these churches tend to personally enjoy the Prosperity Gospel, sometimes at the expense of their churches’ impoverished members.” In areas where people struggle to eke out a life, this “gospel” promises much and delivers little. Those who do not receive what they were promised are told that they haven’t given enough, they have sin in their lives, or their faith is too weak—either way, it is their own fault.
The problem with this criticism is that, in my experience, it is just as applicable to non-Pentecostal churches. Pentecostals do not have the market cornered on legalism. As a Free Methodist, I have to explain why years ago our churches were not allowed to have pianos and why we could play Rook or Uno but playing cards was of the devil. I also encounter the Prosperity Gospel in many non-Pentecostal groups. Pentecostals may be louder in their proclamations than some groups and the shear number of Pentecostal may make it seem like Pentecostal issues, but I believe that these are issues that all churches must deal with.
Progressive Pentecostalism addresses these issues. Being a Christian is not just about a temporal experience, it affects every part of our being and doing. Spirit-led ministry flows out of one’s relationship with Christ. “Christians are called to be good neighbors, addressing the social needs of people in their community…confronting the AIDS pandemic in Africa…establishing health clinics and initiating programs for street children.” “The terms holistic ministry and integral ministry have evolved in response to the idea that evangelism should never be divorced from meeting the needs of the whole individual.” This is a far cry from a Prosper Gospel that is solely focused on one’s own material desires.
In Latin America, we (the Free Methodist Church) have experienced much transfer growth from those who were saved in Pentecostal Churches that focused on prosperity, rules, or emotional experiences. The reasons given for the transfer often center around a desire for something deeper. People are looking for something beyond just a Sunday experience, they are looking for life-change and transformation. Miller and Yamamori have helped me understand that they were perhaps looking for Progressive Pentecostalism. In many of our churches we find and emphasis on worship, healing, sometimes tongues, but also deep transformation and ministry. We long for the gifts of the Spirit, but also the fruits of the Spirit. Could it be? Are we becoming Progressive Pentecostals? Shhh….don’t tell anyone.
 Donald E. Miller and Tetsunao Yamamori, Global Pentecostalism: The New Face of Christian Social Engagement (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007), 28-30.
 Rob Varicak, Africa Inland Missions.
 Miller and Yamamori, 29.
 Ibid., 2.
 Ibid., 59.