Review of Vinson Synan’s “The Holiness-Pentecostal Tradition” – John Boruff

The Holiness-Pentecostal TraditionJohn Wesley and the Holy Spirit

In the 1700s, the sermons of John Wesley began to pioneer the spirituality of the Methodist Episcopal Church, which would eventually lead to the Pentecostal experiences embraced by denominations like the Assemblies of God in the 1900s. There were a lot of steps and phases that evangelicalism went through in order to arrive at Pentecostalism, but it was essentially a process that took about 200 years. Wesley was a young Anglican priest who had graduated with an M.A. in theology from Oxford University, a prestigious education. If he had played it safe, by the rules of common order, he could have made a fine ministry career for himself in the Church of England. But shortly after his graduation, he doubted that he was genuinely saved, because he had never felt the Holy Spirit. His father had, and spoke of it on his deathbed as “the inward witness” and the “strongest proof of Christianity.” Wesley was really shaken up by this. Eventually on his journey home from a failed mission trip to Georgia, he made contact with some Moravians, who told him about their experience with the Holy Spirit. The Moravians were Lutheran pietist mystics. When he was in London, we went to a Moravian Bible study group on Aldersgate Street, and had his famous “Aldersgate Experience” on May 24, 1738: he said that his heart was “strangely warmed” by the Holy Spirit (cp. Luke 24:32) when the Bible study leader read from Martin Luther’s Preface to the Epistle to the Romans. It was here, for the first time, that Wesley had a genuine experience of the Holy Spirit. The witness was inward, so he knew it was like what his father had been describing to him, and it confirmed the truth of the Gospel: the message of justification by faith and the process of sanctification as described in Romans.

Wesley, and his theologian friends John Fletcher and Adam Clarke, in the context of an Arminian Puritan soteriology, began to develop a uniquely evangelical doctrine of the Holy Spirit (pneumatology) that was also experiential, and not confined to an intellectual, theological doctrine of the Trinity. It came under the heading of two Methodist doctrines: “The Witness of the Spirit” and “Entire Sanctification.” The first was an inward feeling of the Holy Spirit that was more like an intuitive “knowing” that a Christian is saved and adopted by God the Father as his child, and is forgiven of his sins (the experiential aspect of justification by faith) (Rom. 8:16): Wesley’s Aldersgate Experience could have been an advanced form of the witness of the Spirit. The second is described as a definite feeling of God’s presence, but that it washes the heart and the mind to such an extent that it erases all evil thoughts and feelings from the Christian; this doctrine was the most controversial of the Methodists and earned them the stigma of being called “perfectionists” by everyone else. Personally, I don’t believe in the doctrine of entire sanctification with its implication of sinlessness, but I do believe in the reality of God’s presence suppressing sinful thoughts (as this seems to be what Romans 8 refers to as walking in the Spirit). How can a man think of sinning when he is only conscious of God’s holy presence? He can’t. And that’s the essence of it, in my view. The baptism in the Holy Spirit suppresses the power of original sin, but does not annihilate it. The spiritual battle against the flesh must go on. Spirit baptism, to me, is only a moral boost, but is not an eradication of the flesh’s sinful nature. It is felt in Pentecostal worship, and the residue of it will stay on the Christian for some time, but eventually the experience will need to be repeated over and over again.

Assemblies of God and the Baptism in the Holy Spirit

Moderate Pentecostals like the Assemblies of God (AG) would eventually modify the doctrine of entire sanctification and call it “The Baptism in the Holy Spirit,” but they added to it the doctrine of “Initial Evidence,” which implies that the only way to know for sure that you have been Spirit baptized was if you spoke in tongues. I personally agree with them on this point (Acts 2:4; 10:46; 19:6; 1 Cor. 14:1-33). The AG did not invent the doctrine, but had only crystallized it officially by 1916. The doctrine’s first appearance was from a Bible study held by the students of Charles Parham at his Bethel Bible School in 1900. The “initial evidence” of tongues is not to be confused with the work of regeneration in justification: that experience of the Holy Spirit is just barely knowable, just a touch above accepting the Gospel intellectually in the head. Speaking in tongues is something that evangelicals have always misunderstood about Pentecostals. The AG does not teach that salvation comes through speaking in tongues (although some of the “oneness” people teach that). Spirit baptism is a second work of grace, second to regeneration: it is basically an experience of Holy Spirit filled sanctification; and since sanctification is a lifelong process, it follows that a Pentecostal could theoretically be Spirit baptized hundreds of times before he dies. Spirit baptism, in this view, would essentially be a Spirit filled utterance of tongues accompanied by the presence of God during Pentecostal worship. It can happen randomly, but its usually during a concentrated Pentecostal worship or prayer with the eyes closed and the mind focused on Jesus (Heb. 12:2).

John Fletcher (d. 1785), Charles Finney (d. 1875), and others in the holiness movement of the 1800s eventually started to speak of “the baptism of the Holy Ghost” to refer to entire sanctification: and the experience was sought for at holiness revival meetings, prayer meetings, and camp meetings. Asa Mahan, a colleague of Finney’s, published The Baptism of the Holy Ghost in 1870 to describe entire sanctification in terms of Spirit-baptism (see Vinson Synan’s In the Latter Days, p. 37). Eventually the element of speaking in tongues was thrown into the mix by Parham in 1900, and the doctrine of speaking in tongues was crystallized by William J. Seymour at the Azusa Street Revival in 1906, and subsequently by the AG in 1916. Whatever people taught, theorized, and interpreted about the experience: there was one thing held in common by both the holiness people and the Pentecostals: they both were seeking a tangible, felt presence of the Holy Spirit through prolonged prayer meetings. The holiness people interpreted the experience only in a moral sense, whereas the Pentecostals added tongues and other miraculous gifts onto God’s presence, such as visions, dreams, the voice of God, and casting out devils. This transition was mainly spread through William J. Seymour’s The Apostolic Faith magazine, Minnie Abrams’ The Baptism of the Holy Ghost and Fire (1907), and the ministries of Pentecostal healing evangelists like Maria Woodworth-Etter (d. 1924).


Pentecostals Rejected
as Weird and Wild Fanatics

White American religious culture has always rejected Pentecostals as a bunch of weird, pathological, uneducated fanatics that may even be in league with the devil. This has been due to several social factors. 1. Pentecostals, especially in the first forty years (from 1906 to 1946), were mainly made up of the poor, uneducated lower classes, and had to use ugly little storefront churches. So, this automatically was a cause for their rejection by many rich snobs who attended the stately Episcopal, Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian, and Baptist churches. 2. The Pentecostal worship style was emotional, outspoken, wild, and expressive–something that went dramatically against the instincts of a reserved, professional white business class. 3. White Pentecostals sometimes mingled with black Pentecostals, who were also poor and uneducated, and being African-American not long after the Civil War and the abolition of slavery, pretty much set them against white society with the strongest stigma possible. Pentecostals were basically integrationists in a mainly white supremacist and segregationist culture: and for this reason, sometimes the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) would persecute the Pentecostals, give them beatings, shoot at them, and even burn down their churches. 4. As early as 1909, a pseudo-Pentecostal snake handling cult formed called Church of God With Signs Following. According to a twisted reading of Mark 16:18: “They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them”–they came to practice snake handling and poison drinking during their church services in order to test the authenticity of their faith. Many people were harmed from being in this cult; and since the earliest days of Pentecostalism, their existence had spread the false rumor that all Pentecostals were snake handlers. This practice is associated with witchcraft; and so, demonizing the Pentecostals became even easier to do.

5. Pentecostals ordained women to pastoral ministry. This was seen as an anti-Biblical practice (1 Tim. 2:12), and brought more disrepute to the Pentecostals, as being guided by a feministic Jezebel spirit. 6. In 1918, the Presbyterian theologian B. B. Warfield, published his popular cessationist book Counterfeit Miracles. Although he did not mention “Pentecostals” or “Azusa Street” by name, he did mention A. B. Simpson and John Alexander Dowie, who were for a short time associated with the Pentecostal movement. Warfield led his readers to the conclusion that there have been no authentic miracles of the Holy Spirit since the deaths of the first twelve apostles. He rejected every story, testimony, report, or experience that claimed real Christian miracles had ever happened in church history or in modern times after the Bible was written. To him, miracles were only present during the time period that the Bible was being written, in order to give credibility to those who were writing it. This idea threw a big damper on any supernatural progress the church had been making through the influence of the Pentecostals; and it marginalized, and discredited them even more. Pentecostals mainly came to be viewed by others as charlatans and fanatics that claimed to have miracles in their churches, but who were just basically deceived by their religious zeal and emotionalism. This was also in an age of increasing liberal theology, unbelief in the Bible’s supernatural claims, and atheistic Darwinism (the Scopes Trial occurring in 1925). So, if any genuine miracles did occur in those storefront churches, they were experiences that were known only to the Pentecostals, because they had been so rejected and marginalized by others, and not taken into serious consideration for evaluation and sociological documentation. 7. From day one the very sound of speaking in tongues was scoffed at as weird babel. It scared some and made others laugh, but distanced everyone who was not willing to socially abase themselves to the point of speaking in tongues in public.

Smith Wigglesworth’s Death, the Healing Revival, and the Prosperity Gospel

In the ’40s, the international healing ministry of Smith Wigglesworth was coming to a close, with his death in 1947. He kept alive an awareness of the reality of miraculous gifts among Pentecostals. Ever since his book Ever Increasing Faith came out in 1924, his traveling ministry kept the Pentecostal movement alive and focused on their distinctives of holy living, the baptism in the Holy Spirit, speaking in tongues, words of knowledge, miraculous faith, the voice of God, casting out devils, etc. Donald Gee, an associate of Wigglesworth in his early years, sought to balance some extremes he saw in the Pentecostal revival, and wrote Concerning Spiritual Gifts (1928). In the years leading up to Wigglesworth’s death, many Pentecostals felt that the revival was dying out, because there were less and less of these miraculous gifts being used in their churches. The year after Wigglesworth’s death, 1948, saw the beginning of the Healing Revival led by William Branham, Oral Roberts, and Jack Coe; that same year, Billy Graham, the Baptist fundamentalist, launched his evangelistic ministry; and also, that same year, the State of Israel was formed, which was viewed as a sign from God that was confirming all these happenings.

The Healing Revival merged with another movement called the “Latter Rain Revival,” which taught that in the last days, super-Pentecostals would arise with such miraculous gifts that they would exceed the original twelve apostles in power, and that they would take over the world, and even become immortal, known variously as the “overcomers,” the “manchild,” or the “manifest sons of God.” The Assemblies of God rejected both the Healing Revival, and the Latter Rain Revival as heretical, and saw them as mixed together. The Healing Revival roughly ended around 1952, because Branham started to preach heretical views that were not in agreement with his Assemblies of God tour manager, Gordon Lindsay (who by the way, managed to compile some decent writings on miraculous gifts, now in a 513 page book called Commissioned with Power). Oral Roberts, who had gained a massive following as a healing evangelist, around that same year had befriended Demos Shakarian, the founder of Full Gospel Business Men’s Fellowship International (FGBMI), and gave birth to the “prosperity gospel” stream of Pentecostalism that is now so popularly featured on the Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN). By the early ’50s, Pentecostal experiences had pretty much fallen off the deep end; and Pentecostal churches were viewed by their revivalists as “bless me clubs” that didn’t actively engage in street evangelism. In Gary Wilkerson’s David Wilkerson, page 72, he suggests that by the year 1958, the Assemblies of God was trying to gain an air of cultural respectability, so they could remain members in good standing with the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE); and that this further hindered any emotional excitement or prophetic experiences often associated with Pentecostal worship.

The Charismatic Movement:
David du Plessis, Dennis Bennett, Harald Bredesen, and Larry Christenson

In 1936, Wigglesworth burst into the office of Pentecostal pastor David du Plessis, laid his hands on his shoulders, pushed him against the wall, and forcefully prophesied in the style of an ecstatic nabi prophet:

You have been “Jerusalem” long enough…I will send you to the uttermost parts of the earth…You will bring the message of Pentecost to all churches…you will travel more than evangelists do…God is going to revive the churches in the last days and through them turn the world upside down. Even the Pentecostal movement will become a mere joke compared with the revival which God will bring through the churches (p. 225).

This prophecy started to become fulfilled in 1951. While du Plessis was pastoring an Assemblies of God church in Connecticut, he felt led by the Holy Spirit to make contact with the World Council of Churches, which is the leading association of mainline liberals. Du Plessis was a man who was committed to the conservative evangelical framework that Pentecostalism had grown from. At the time, liberal churches were viewed as deistic heretics who had embraced evolution, Biblical criticism, and anti-supernaturalism; they were seen as a lost cause, and certainly not worthy of fellowship for an evangelical fundamentalist nor a Pentecostal. But du Plessis, being led by the Holy Spirit, looked at them as a mission field. He knew things about the baptism in the Holy Spirit and miraculous gifts; and they had no idea such things were in existence today. He met with a few of their leaders, and found an unusually warm reception from them, and saw that they were eager to make contact with the Pentecostal churches. He became an individual member in 1954 and he was seated as a Pentecostal representative at several of their sessions; and he turned out to be the only Pentecostal present at Vatican II (1962 – 1965) for the Roman Catholic Church. For this, he was excommunicated from the Assemblies of God in 1962. Nicknamed “Mr. Pentecost,” he became the leading figure in the charismatic movement. More details about his life are in his testimonials The Spirit Bade Me Go (1970) and A Man Called Mr. Pentecost (1977).

Pastors in other denominations brought the Assemblies of God experiences of the baptism in the Holy Spirit, speaking in tongues, Pentecostal worship, words of knowledge, healing, and casting out demons into their denominations. In 1960, the Episcopal priest Dennis Bennett shared with his church that he had been baptized in the Holy Spirit and could now speak in tongues. The California bishop James Pike, a liberal and spiritualist, had Bennett excommunicated from the state on the grounds that Pentecostal experiences were culturally inappropriate for the Episcopal Church. The story made it into Time and Newsweek and was arguably the beginning of the charismatic movement. He was then invited to pastor the small St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Seattle, Washington. Within a short time, a Pentecostal revival erupted, with about 2,000 people from all denominations attending every Sunday. Bennett’s The Holy Spirit and You (1971), his theology of miraculous gifts, was influenced by Stanley Frodsham’s Smith Wigglesworth: Apostle of Faith and Smith Wigglesworth’s Ever Increasing Faith–both Assemblies of God books. More details about his life are in his autobiography Nine O’Clock in the Morning (1970).

In its March 29, 1963 issue, Time covered the story of Dutch Reformed pastor Harald Bredesen, who had led a Pentecostal revival at Yale University of all places, with the students speaking in tongues (they were called the GlossoYalies). He coined the word “charismatic” in reference to this movement, which was then being called “neo-Pentecostal.” He had a unique influence on the movement: it was more in the lives that he touched, men with big influence. It was through him that Pat Robertson was baptized in the Holy Spirit and led to found CBN, The 700 Club, and Regent University. He was also the catalyst for the ministry of David Wilkerson. His involvement in the early years of Teen Challenge, and a chance encounter with Norman Vincent Peale, led him and Wilkerson to John Sherrill, who co-authored The Cross and the Switchblade (1962) and They Speak With Other Tongues (1964)–two books that sparked the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, and popularized Wilkerson’s reach for the rest of his life. He had a few encounters with heads of state. He was also a repentance preacher, a fan of Charles Finney, and had struggled through the issues of law and Gospel, in way that is rare for charismatics. More details about his life are in his autobiography Yes, Lord (1982).

Larry Christenson became another voice in the charismatic movement. Representing charismatics in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), he published the widely read Speaking in Tongues (Bethany House, 1968) and The Charismatic Renewal Among Lutherans (1976). In this latter book, Spirit baptism was viewed to occur during water baptism or at conversion, with tongues and other miraculous gifts showing up later on in the Christian life. This “charismatic” view of the baptism in the Holy Spirit was different than the Assemblies of God view, which insisted on tongues as evidence for Spirit baptism. (John Wimber and the Vineyard churches would later adopt the new charismatic view.) Christenson later became ashamed of his denomination, when in 2009, they voted for gay clergy to remain in good standing. He seeks to stay in his denomination and try to influence it for good.

Charismatics in the Jesus Movement

In the late 1960s and early ’70s, young hippies in Southern California started to flock to Chuck Smith’s Calvary Chapel and turn away from their “sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll” lifestyles. With the help of the charismatic movement, which was happening at the same time, and David Wilkerson’s Teen Challenge idea of the “30 second cure”–these young junkies had gotten fed up with their drug addictions, and were seeking the baptism in the Holy Spirit with speaking in tongues, as the preferred way to handle their stress. Wilkerson’s The Cross and the Switchblade book was made into a 1970 movie with Pat Boone, and resonated with a lot of the Jesus people (or “Jesus freaks,” as outsiders called them). This combination of the Jesus Movement with the charismatic movement brought about a nationwide evangelical and charismatic youth revival for a few years, and roughly ended by 1973.

Most of the Jesus people leaned in the charismatic direction (pp. 256-257), but as in past revivals, they eventually divided into a new generation of evangelicals and charismatics. 1977 saw the Conference on Charismatic Renewal in the Churches in Kansas City’s Arrowhead Stadium, with 50,000 in attendance. The evangelical wing of Jesus people sided with Calvary Chapel, the Southern Baptists, and Billy Graham’s type of evangelicalism. The charismatic wing sided with Assemblies of God, David Wilkerson, and eventually John Wimber’s new charismatic denomination, Vineyard Christian Fellowship, which began in 1982. Lonnie Frisbee, once a typical Jesus freak and evangelist, helped to launch the Vineyard churches by attracting the now aging generation of charismatic Jesus people–but later when it came to light that he was living a double life as a homosexual, he was excommunicated. Wimber continued to lead the charismatic wing of Jesus people into the ’80s and ’90s, as did Derek Prince (controversial leader of the authoritarian “shepherding movement”), and others who had started non-denominational charismatic churches.

The Toronto Blessing and Its Animal Noises

From 1994 to 1996, the Vineyard pastor John Arnott led what began as a genuine Holy Spirit revival in his church in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. It was called Toronto Airport Vineyard and is now called Catch The Fire Toronto. It was a lot like the Azusa Street Revival in that it lasted for about 2 years, was ridiculed by secular news media, and attracted people to visit from all over the world to see miracles, get baptized in the Holy Spirit, get slain or “drunk” in the Spirit, get the holy laughter, see visions, etc. People experienced strange physical manifestations like the people did at Azusa Street, such as shakes and jerks. But there were some people who made animal noises, such as roaring like lions, barking like dogs, and crowing like chickens. These animal spirits manifested back at Azusa also, but when that happened William Seymour kept it in check and associated it with demons and spiritualism. Sometimes spiritualists would attend the Azusa Street mission to interrupt it (see Cecil Robeck’s The Azusa Street Mission and Revival, p. 168). The same thing probably happened with the Toronto revival. I suspect that New Agers attended out of curiosity, and eventually imparted these animal spirits (power animals or spirit guides) into the meetings somehow, and sabotaged the revival. The big mistake made by Arnott, however, was that he was not willing to condemn the animal behavior, but instead defended it in chapter 11 of his book The Father’s Blessing (Charisma House, 1995), claiming that the animal noises were symbolic messages from the Holy Spirit, and that they were basically a type of prophecy. John Wimber had warned against this behavior a number of times, but when he noticed that Arnott had taken this stance and published this in his book, he made the final decision to excommunicate the Toronto church out of the Vineyard (p. 277; see Bill Jackson’s The Quest for the Radical Middle, pp. 326-332).

The Brownsville Revival

During the height of international interest in the Toronto Blessing, a genuine Pentecostal revival of even greater magnitude began in Brownsville Assembly of God in Pensacola, Florida. Led by evangelist Steve Hill, this turned into a 5 year revival, lasting from 1995 to the year 2000. As a spiritual son of David Wilkerson and Leonard Ravenhill (died in 1994, the author of Why Revival Tarries), it seems that Hill’s revival was the answer to Ravenhill’s lifelong prayers for a nationwide evangelical awakening. At a time when the seeker-sensitive movement had pretty much taken over all of the churches, Hill attracted over 1 million people with fiery sermons on Hell, repentance, holiness, and the cross. There were tremendous outpourings of the baptism in the Holy Spirit, with people speaking in tongues, falling out, and shaking. But no animal noises. It gave Pentecostals a renewed sense of purpose in the wake of the 1987 televangelist scandals that happened with Oral Roberts, Jim Bakker, and Jimmy Swaggart. However, eventually the Assemblies of God church officials shut down the revival, because they were against the shaking manifestations that kept occurring in the meetings. Michael Brown, who headed up the Brownsville Revival School of Ministry (BRSM), was eventually dismissed because he was not an ordained Assemblies of God minister. He then moved his operations to his independent church and Bible college, which he called the Fellowship for International Revival and Evangelism, or F.I.R.E. School.

Review of Synan’s book stops here.

Pentecostals and Charismatics Since the Year 2000:
Assemblies of God, Vineyard USA, and the New Apostolic Reformation

So, where have Pentecostals and charismatics been going since the Brownsville Revival ended? Reading the Charisma Magazine back issues from the year 2000 to the present might be a good indicator of that, if you can get your hands on them. But I would say what has happened, and where the Holy Spirit seems to be guiding me the most, is in the direction of Vineyard USA (to a degree). Bill Johnson and his Bethel Church has pretty much led the way in the area of the “prophetic movement,” or what is now called the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR), which is comprised of thousands of non-denominational charismatic churches committed to the idea of prophetic ministry, among other things. Rick Joyner’s MorningStar Ministries, John Arnott’s Catch The Fire Toronto, Randy Clark’s Global Awakening, Mike Bickle’s IHOP-KC (the only NAR church that I have respect for), John Sandford’s Elijah House, Patricia King’s Extreme Prophetic, Jim Goll’s God Encounters Ministries, and many others featured on elijahlist.com and Sid Roth’s It’s Supernatural! are pretty much leading the way in Pentecostalism right now. This new charismatic stream was documented in Julia Loren’s Shifting Shadows of Supernatural Power (2006), and has pretty much set the tone for the way Pentecostal and charismatic churches are right now. In 2008, the Lakeland Revival with Todd Bentley ended in an adultery scandal, and has been a sore spot for many charismatics. Bill Johnson’s Bethel Church has also come under scrutiny from Andrew Strom for New Age type practices. Strom wrote an article called “Why I Left the Prophetic Movement” (2004), which was later turned into a book. John MacArthur’s Strange Fire (2013) issued a fresh attack on charismatics and was answered by Michael Brown’s Authentic Fire (2015). I also have concerns about Bethel Church that I have raised in my article “Bethel Church: The Popular Charismatic Cult?” (2016).

Leaders to Learn From in Pentecostal History

There are some diamonds in the rough. I’ll highlight a few right here.

  • John Wesley – his Works have a lot of moral and charismatic material
  • William J. Seymour – Larry Martin’s “The Complete Azusa Street Library
  • Smith Wigglesworth – Stanley Frodsham’s Smith Wigglesworth, etc
  • Donald GeeConcerning Spiritual Gifts, etc
  • Gordon LindsayCommissioned with Power, etc
  • John Sherrill They Speak With Other Tongues
  • John WimberPower Healing, etc
  • Jack DeereSurprised by the Voice of God, etc
  • Mike BickleGrowing in the Prophetic, etc
  • Michael BrownAuthentic Fire, etc
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About John Boruff

John Boruff is the founder of WesleyGospel.com, a husband, father, and sometimes an open air preacher. He graduated from UNC Pembroke in 2008 with a B.A. in Philosophy and Religion and views himself as a Baptistic Pentecostal. As a Christian, he feels connected with all members of the body of Christ, but can identify the most with churches like the Assemblies of God and the Vineyard. In 2015, he released "The Gospel of Jesus Christ," which is meant to be a Bible study for open air preaching. For his other writings, search articles on this site or see the E-Books section.
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