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On Catholics and Pentecostals

7/21/2006 - 6:00 AM PST

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A Historical Overview

VATICAN CITY, JULY 21, 2006 (Zenit) - Here is the report "Catholics and Pentecostals: A Historical Overview," by Father Juan Usma Gómez, official of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.

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An April 2005 meeting in Los Angeles, U.S.A., commemorated the first centenary of the Pentecostal Movement.

The chronicles recount that at the beginning of the 20th century, a group of believers was expelled from the Second Baptist Church of Los Angeles because of its constant insistence on the need for a spiritual revival. The search for these revivals, a practice that has been more or less widespread in Protestant milieus since the advent of Methodism in the 19th century, involved a special kind of prayer and worship which, stimulated by intense preaching and prayer meetings, often resulted in an upsurge of religious zeal.

In 1905, instead of breaking up and joining other Christian communities, this little group of the faithful began to meet in a house on Bonnie Brae Street, under the direction of William J. Seymour. There a new Pentecost was preached and they prayed for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit, just like the one described in the Acts of the Apostles (cf. Acts 2:1-21) (1).

Historians tell us that news of this initiative spread rapidly across the city and that many other people joined the group. It soon became necessary for it to relocate to larger premises on Azusa Street, where the Apostolic Faith Mission was set up.

The first religious service took place on April 14, 1906. The story says that it was actually in Azusa Street that a large number of the faithful experienced the "personal Pentecost," in other words, that spiritual experience generally recognized as the beginning of Pentecostalism, which was later to be called "Baptism in the Holy Spirit."

Reactions to this event were varied and conflicting. Those who received the "anointing" spoke of it as the sovereign touch of God, whereas leaders of the Protestant and Evangelical Communities kept their distance, fearing that such an experience could not have solid spiritual and doctrinal foundations.

Especially in light of the manifestations that accompanied it, they began to doubt the "mental health" of the protagonists (2). Today, 100 years after the events on Azusa Street, there are numerous Pentecostal groups, either local or part of a real international network (3).

No organic institutional unity

Although they all describe themselves as Pentecostal, there are slight structural differences between them; while three important trends can be identified, there is no organic institutional unity among them nor a totally representative world structure.

Many claim, on the other hand, that the spiritual unity which derives from "Baptism in the Spirit" is a fundamental and sufficient bond.

In addition to the properly Pentecostal denominations (classical Pentecostals), Pentecostal groups exist within the various Churches and ecclesial communities: (denominational Pentecostals, such as the Catholic Charismatic Renewal); many others define themselves as non--denominational, neo-charismatic and independent.

To these can be added a long list of groups of a dubious ecclesial and Christian character that can hardly be called religious but that carry out activities using Pentecostal forms.

In 2005, it was calculated that there were 500 million Pentecostals.

Certain studies forecast a growth of 2.25% in comparison with the 1.23% (4) increase in the world population. It should be noted that these figures also include Christians who live Pentecostal spirituality in their own Churches and those who occasionally come into contact with the Pentecostal reality. Also, there are no statistics for those who have abandoned Pentecostalism.

During the 100 years of its existence, Pentecostalism has come into contact with almost all Christian communities, but in different ways, as we will see later.

In fact, the openness of the first groups who offered the grace of "Baptism in the Spirit" as a source of spiritual renewal was followed by a clash in the area of mission due to the rejection by the other Christian Communities: the Pentecostal certainty of salvation obtained through "Baptism in the Spirit" and the fear of being found guilty by God for failing to convert those who say they are Christians (but not Pentecostals) obviously imbues Pentecostals with missionary zeal.

Pentecostals and Catholics

With regard to Catholics, this movement, born as a reaction to a "dead orthodoxy" and a "Christian nominalism," has retained its negative attitude: the identification of Rome with Babylon, inherited from the Reformation, has not entirely disappeared.

The situation changed with the recognition of the Pentecostal ...

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