Pentecostal Centennial Celebrations Marked by Unity, Diversity

LOS ANGELES – More than 30,000 Pentecostal Christians from 127 countries flocked to Los Angeles this week to celebrate the 100th year anniversary of the Azusa Street Revival – long hailed as the cradle of the spirit-led movement.

Pentecostal and Charismatic believers from all theological and denominational backgrounds converged for a series of evangelistic outreaches, educational seminars, festive rallies, animated worship, and spiritual prayer that culminates Saturday with a Centennial Assembly in the heart of downtown Los Angeles, where the global movement first began.

Estimates of the number of Pentecostals vary greatly from a low of 200 million to a high of 800 million. According to the World Christian Encyclopedia, there are about 500 million Pentecostals and Charismatics today, including the 100-plus million renewalists from the Catholic tradition.

While there are many strains of Pentecostalism, the vast majority of believers adhere to either the Holiness or Oneness traditions. The core difference between the two groups lies in the name by which they baptize – Holiness Pentecostals baptize in the name of the Trinity (Father, Son, Holy Spirit), while the Oneness Pentecostals baptize in the name of Jesus Christ.

Both Oneness and Holiness Pentecostals trace their roots to the revival at Azusa Street, which from 1906 to 1909 drew worldwide attention as thousands worshipped around the clock and dispatched missionaries around the world. Both also believe that the revival is a modern-day fulfillment of Acts 2:4 – the biblical passage in which the Holy Spirit descends on the disciples after Jesus Christ’s ascension.

However, the divide between the Oneness and Holiness traditions were tangibly felt this week, as believers from the two groups worshipped, evangelized, and fellowshipped in separate gatherings.

The larger of the two, the Holiness group, are meeting Apr. 25 - 29 for the official Azusa Street Centennial, while the Oneness group are holding their own Fire Still Falls Holy Ghost Crusade Apr. 26 - 29.

Despite their differences, theologians say the many groups within the Pentecostal movement are united in their belief that the spiritual gifts of speaking in tongues, seeing visions, and performing miracles are available to them as they were to the apostolic fathers of the first century.

According to Donald E. Miller, a professor of religion at the University of Southern California who studied Pentecostalism in 22 countries for five years, about 25 percent of all Christians in the world today are Pentecostals “of one stripe or another,” compared with a mere six percent 30 years ago.