Twentieth Century Revolution

Twentieth Century Revolution

Dr. Henry Van Dusen, while president of Union Theological Seminary in New York, did a study of what he called the “Third Force” in Christianity and in June of 1958 published an article on this subject. As a part of his study, Dr. Van Dusen took a close look at the world-wide Pentecostal movement and after attending a pentecostal worship service he said (in a conversation with John Sherrill, an editor of Guidepost Magazine): “I felt rather at home. In spite of the vast differences — and they were certainly vast — I felt at home. I felt that I was stepping back in time to a primitive but very vital Christian experience. I do believe that Peter and Barnabas and Paul would find themselves more at home in a good Pentecostal service than in the formalized and ritualized worship of our modern churches.” 1

Dr. Van Dusen then went on to make this remarkable statement: “I have come to feel that the Pentecostal movement with its emphasis upon the Holy Spirit, is more than just another revival. It is a revolution in our day. It is a revolution comparable in importance with the establishment of the original Apostolic Church and with the Protestant Reformation.” 2

This twentieth century revolution began through the ministry of Rev. Charles Parham of Topeka Kansas, a former Methodist minister who joined the holiness movement in the concluding years of the 19th century. 3 Parham opened a Bible school in Topeka in 1898 and after an intensive study of the Acts of the Apostles, Parham and his students became convinced that the Pentecostal experience described in that book was intended by God to be a part of the present-day experience of the church. They began to seek the baptism in the Holy Spirit and in a watch-night service on New Year’s Eve, 1900, one of the students received the baptism and began to speak in tongues. 4 Soon Parham and a number of other students came into this experience.

The Bible School was moved to Houston, Texas in 1905 and it was there that a young black holiness preacher, William Seymour, accepted the Pentecostal teachings of Parham. In 1906 Seymour moved to Los Angeles and in April of that year, in an abandoned Methodist church building at 312 Azusa St., the Pentecostal revolution burst into full flame. 5

Under Seymour's leadership a truly Pentecostal form of worship and ministry developed — all of the gifts of the Spirit were in operation and the Word of God was confirmed with signs and wonders following. People of Asian, Latino, African and Anglo heritage knelt together, worshipping side by side, sinners were convicted unto salvation, believers were filled with the Holy Spirit, bodies were healed, demonic oppression broken. It is astounding how closely the Azusa Street church resembled the early New Testament church: cross-cultural, multiracial, economically poor and spiritually powerful.

The Azusa Street revival continued seven days and nights a week for over three years, during which time disciples moved out all across the nation and into every arena of the mission field.  Most of the established denominations refused the Pentecostal experience so new churches were born and in the following decades they grew at an incredible rate. For instance, in 1914 the Assemblies of God, a Pentecostal church, was organized with only 10,000 members but by 1980 their world-wide membership had passed the 10 million mark. 6  In 2018 the movement self-reported its world wide membership at 67 million. 7

The Holy Spirit is as active today as in any previous century though His activity is often ignored by unbelievers and misunderstood by biased believers. Whereas expressions of true Christianity have been declining in recent decades in the mainline denominations in Europe and North America due to the impact of heretical teaching and culture-compromise, the growth of the true church in the Global South has been nothing less than explosive and often, though certainly not exclusively, through the ministries of pentecostal churches. (Global South is defined as South Asia, Africa, Central America and South America). 

Thomas Sweets, in his doctrinal dissertation published in 2016, “Transforming Leadership at Madeira Church Through an Understanding that ‘The Kingdom of God is at Hand’” said, “In 1984 the PCUSA was a denomination of 3.1 million members in a nation of 235 million people (1.3 percent). Today it has 1.6 million members and the U.S. population is 317 million (0.5 percent). By simple objective standards the influence of the Presbyterian Church USA has declined by more than half in the last thirty years.” 8  But he goes on to say, “Sixty-five years ago there were fewer than 30,000 Presbyterians in Kenya. Today there are 4,000,000 Presbyterians in Kenya, nearly double the total of all the adherents in all Presbyterian denominations in the United States.” 9  While the Presbyterian Church in Kenya is not pentecostal, it is surely evangelical, Christ-centered and trusting in the presence and power of the Holy Spirit for it growth and vitality.

We could site many more examples of explosive church growth in the Global South but of particular interest is the fact that this growth has occurred almost exclusively through evangelical, Bible-believing, Christ-exalting churches and often through Pentecostal / Charismatic movements. A World Council of Churches study on church growth trends (conducted in the early 1970s and quoted in an article by Vinson Synan in 1981) concluded that by the year 2,000 AD the world-wide Christian Church would be predominantly non-white, located in the Southern Hemisphere and Pentecostal in theology and practice.10 The following decades have proven the accuracy of those projections. The growth of evangelical / pentecostal / charismatic churches has been phenomenal, especially in the Global South.

In his book The Next Christendom published in 2011, sociologist of religion Philip Jenkins painted broadly the current and future global picture of Christianity, reminding us that, “Over the last five centuries, the story of Christianity has been inextricably bound up with … Europe and European-derived civilizations overseas, above all … North America … Over the last century, however, the center of gravity in the Christian world has shifted inexorably away from Europe, southward, to Africa and Latin America, and eastward, toward Asia.” 11 The effect of this explosion is so significant that Jenkins said that the “Pentecostal expansion across the Southern continents has been so astonishing as to justify claims of a new Reformation.” 12  

Harvey Cox compares the old reformation in 16th century Europe with the “new reformation” of Pentecostal-charismatic Christianity that is currently encompassing the globe. He said, “Today, Christianity is living through a reformation that will prove to be even more basic and more sweeping than the one that shook Europe during the sixteenth century … The present reformation is shaking the foundations more dramatically than its sixteenth century predecessor, and its results will be more far-reaching and radical.” 13

Another observer adds, “According to a 2006 Pew Forum Report, classic pentecostals now comprise a significant minority of the population in many countries: Guatemala (20%), Brazil (15%), Chile (9%), Kenya (33%), Nigeria (18%) South Africa (10%). And when you add charismatics and independent evangelical churches, it is even more significant in some countries: Guatemala (60%), Brazil (49%), Kenya (56%), Philippines (44%). In the future, then, it seems likely that many majority world countries will have populations in which pentecostal Christians are either in the majority or comprise a very significant minority.” 14

According to another study, “There were 631 million pentecostals in 2014 comprising nearly 1/4 of all Christians. There were only 63 million pentecostals in 1970, and the number is expected to reach 800 million by 2025 … Two-thirds of pentecostals are in the majority world.” 15 (Majority World refers to the Global South or the earlier, obsolete designation, Third World.)

A report on pentecostal, charismatic and evangelical Christians and on Protestant denominational families, commissioned by the Pew Forum from the Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in 2011, estimated that there were 584,080,000 Pentecostal and Charismatic Christians world wide. 16 

A good example of this dynamic explosion is seen in Gospel for Asia, an indigenous ministry located in India. Founded in the latter part of the 20th century, GFA has trained 50,000 pastors with 6,000 pastors currently in training and 17,000 active pastors serving 12,000 congregations with four million members (information provided by GFA). 17 GFA is Orthodox in liturgy, episcopal in government (governed by bishops tracing their succession of bishops back to Peter and Paul), Biblically conservative in doctrine (adhering to the ancient creeds of the church), eucharistically centered (celebrating the Lord’s Supper in each Sunday service), passionately evangelistic and trusting God for miraculous signs and wonders as break-through events in hostile cultures. 

GFA is also active in mercy ministries, reaching out to the vast populations of impoverished people groups — the homeless, lepers, widows and single mothers — through medical outreaches, literacy and job training, providing tools and farm animals, disaster relief, drilling wells to provide clean water and countless other expressions of the mercy of Christ.

GFA also launched Bridge of Hope Schools, providing more than 70,000 children from impoverished families literacy training, an introduction to the Good News of Christ’s love for them along with medical checkups and nourishing food. 18 These children are often from among the Dalits, the poorest of the poor, often known as Untouchables. When you deposit in the heart of a child the idea that you are not untouchable trash but precious treasure designed by Jesus for a unique purpose in this world, when you give that child literacy and job skills, you have given birth to a beautiful spark of hope in the heart of that child. When you do this with 70,000 children, you have started a revolution of holy fire.

This fire is being birthed by the Holy Spirit all across the Global South and is transforming nations. It will not cease until Jesus returns.

For several decades after the Azusa Street revolution the historic denominations were largely untouched. However, this began to change with a series of dramatic events beginning in I960. In that year Father Dennis Bennett, rector of St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Van Nuys California, received the baptism in the Holy Spirit and subsequent developments made headlines in national newspapers and magazines. In spite of strong opposition initially, the charismatic renewal spread through the Episcopal Church like a lightning fire dancing across a dry prairie. 

By the 1980s, according to figures released by the Episcopal Renewal Ministries, between 17-18 percent of all Episcopal churches were involved in various stages of charismatic renewal. 19 In addition to these, many other parishes, though not directly involved, were being impacted to some degree. Even more significant was the level of involvement amongst the leadership in the Episcopal Church. According to one writer at that time, “At least fifteen Episcopal bishops were personally involved in charismatic renewal, while many others acknowledge its contribution. 20  

That is extremely important. One of the reasons why the renewal of the Episcopal Church at that time moved so smoothly and had such a deep impact was because the leadership of the church responded so positively. This is not to say that all bishops were sympathetic to the renewal movement but instead of working against it or ignoring it, many were attempting to shepherd and nurture it in such a way as to maximize its positive elements.

In turn, the renewal leadership submitted itself to traditional Episcopal liturgical and governmental forms while continuing to be used by God in re-vitalizing and renewing the old. A practical example of this would be a typical healing service at just about any Episcopal Church undergoing renewal at that time. The liturgy was traditional, from the lighting of the candles to the reading of Scriptures and response, “Thanks be to Thee Lord Christ.” But there was also a new element — singing of Scripture choruses along with the good old hymns, lifting of hands in worship, singing in the Spirit (a very beautiful, almost angelic form of tongues). The Eucharist was celebrated through the Book of Common Prayer but this opened into a service of healing in which numerous physical and emotional healings, some very dramatic, others quiet and gradual, took place. The service closed with a traditional benediction. 

It was quite common in these churches for nominal Christians, women and men who had entered into the life of the church but had not encountered the reality of Christ, to be deeply and truly convicted of sin and the futility of life without the Lord, to surrender their lives to Christ and experience a previously unknown intimacy with Him. They often gained a new appreciation for Scripture and a deeper experience of the Lord’s presence in prayer and worship. This was due to the ministry of the Holy Spirit whose desire to glorify Christ was fulfilled in the salvation and Spirit-baptism of these multitudes.

I recall my own experience, as a young believer, in a prayer and praise group at a large Episcopal cathedral. Presided over by a priest wearing his clerical collar, utilizing the Book of Common Prayer with its ancient liturgy, we sang and prayed, listened to Scripture-based teaching and experienced the gifts of the Spirit in full operation. I received an undeniable physical healing and prophetic words of encouragement which deeply impacted my understanding of Christ’s calling over my life. 

This balance between present experience and traditional form was reflected in a statement of purpose by the Episcopal Renewal Fellowship (formerly, at the time of the publication quoted here, the Episcopal Charismatic Fellowship): 

“We discovered that we are drawn together by a shared awareness or experience of the power and love of the risen Christ, and the continued abiding and renewing presence of the Holy Spirit in our own lives and in the life of the Church as a whole … We do not seek to become a pressure group within the Church. We do not claim moral or spiritual superiority over anyone. We do not claim that the experience of the Holy Spirit in our lives has made us better Christians than any of our brethren. We can only testify to the fact that it has made us better Christians than we were before and we rejoice in this as a work of unmerited grace, as the undeserved outpouring of God’s love … Since we are Episcopal clergy, we ask our fathers in God to give us counsel and guidance that this new experience and awareness of God’s love and power may be better used within the Church for the building up of the Body of Christ, for the renewing and strengthening of the Church in Her true mission, and for the increase of love, joy and peace within the Christian fellowship.”  21

In summary, the response of the Episcopal Church to the reality of the charismatic renewal during the 1970s and 80s presented other denominations with an excellent model: the renewal leadership seeking to be obedient to church traditions and government while also obeying God's call to move in new directions; and the church government seeking to guide and direct while affirming and nurturing the renewal of the church.

We must note that many men and women who were once involved in Episcopal renewal movements have since moved on, either to other churches or to a new beginning, the Anglican Church in North America. But the impact of that movement cannot be denied.

During the winter of 1967 this “revolution” broke out in the Roman Catholic Church. It began at Duquesne University and quickly spread to Notre Dame and then to all points on the compass. The impact has been staggering. To quote one early observer, “According to recent surveys and polls, almost 10 million American Catholics have been touched by the movement. By 1980 the Catholic charismatic renewal had been approved by two popes and had reached Catholics in some 120 nations.” 22  In a challenging article in Logos Journal, March/April 1981, Kevin Ranaghan, one of the leaders of the Roman Catholic renewal, addresses the “marked contrast between the integration of Pentecostalism into the Catholic Church and the rejection and expulsion of Pentecostals from so many evangelical, baptistic and holiness churches in the early 20th century.” 23 This is indeed a phenomenon which pastors, theologians and church leaders ought to investigate. According to Ranaghan, the charismatic movement has flourished in the Catholic Church because of a church-wide committment to renewal following Vatican II. 24

This is not to say that there has not been opposition in the Roman Catholic Church, but it is interesting that as the renewal has spread and people have become more familiar with it, opposition has decreased. Ranaghan reported that “moderate and conservative Catholics who at first distrusted the Catholic Charismatic renewal because it was strange and because it made them ecumenically skittish, now increasingly support and participate in the renewal because it has emerged as a major movement for authentic and orthodox spiritual renewal within the church.” 25  

The Roman Catholic Church in the Global South, once a dominant part of the structure of those societies, has not been untouched by the Holy Spirit fire of renewal. Father Mathias D. Thelen, S.T.L., in a study entitled, “The Explosive Growth of Pentecostal-Charismatic Christianity in the Global South, and Its Implications for Catholic Evangelization,” said, “The Church must admit that renewalist Christians (Pentecostals and charismatics) are effectively reaching the multitudes with the gospel of Jesus Christ, and entire nations are being transformed.” 26

Father Thelen went on to say, “Maybe the Pentecostal fire as seen in the ‘emotional intensity’ and the belief in miracles is not burning out because it is from God. If all of this is in fact from God, it will continue to burn throughout the world transforming everything in its path.” 27 

Father Thelen added, “Where the Catholic Church embraces the spirituality of the renewalists, as it has in part with the advent of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, the Church becomes very effective in evangelization.” 28

Recently, Matteo Calisi said, “This {charismatic} movement, so little studied by specialists, is the fastest growing Catholic missionary movement in the world. It has grown in less than fifty years, from zero to over 150 million Roman Catholics. This is the greatest movement of revival and renewal in the history of the Roman Catholic Church. There had never been, in the entire history of the Catholic Church, an event similar to this Charismatic/Pentecostal awakening.” 29

Father Thelen quoted from Ralph Martin’s book, “The Catholic Church at the End of an Age: What is the Spirit Saying”: “By 1992 the numbers of Pentecostals and charismatics had grown to over 410 million and now comprised 24.2 percent of world Christianity … My research has led me to make a bold statement: In all of human history, no other non-political, non-militaristic, voluntary human movement has grown as rapidly as the Pentecostal-charismatic movement in the last 25 years.30 

John Allen, writing in The National Catholic Reporter, said, “In Christian terms, the late 20th century will probably be known as the era of the ‘Pentecostal Explosion.’” 31  Allen says, “Cardinal Kasper, of the Pontifical Council of Christian Unity … estimates that there are now around six-hundred million Pentecostal and charismatic Christians, which is more than one quarter of all Christians in the world.” 32  Allen estimates that from less than six percent in the mid-1970s, Pentecostals finished the 20th century representing almost 20 percent of world Christianity. 33 

The numbers quoted by Father Thelen, Matteo Calisi and John Allen were made at different times using a variety of measuring devices and therefore arrive at different estimates. But the fact remains that the Charismatic Renewal movement has had a profound, one might even say seismic, influence in the Roman Catholic Church. If this can happen there, can it not also happen in other denominations? It must be stated very clearly that the renewal in which Kevin Ranaghan participates is not fundamentally different from that which is occurring in other places but is in fact the same basic work inspired by the same Spirit. To quote Ranaghan again: 

“One can see many similarities between classical and neo-Pentecostalism on one side and the Catholic charismatic renewal on the other. All stress the importance of personal conversion to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, and of each individual being plunged into the person and power of the Holy Spirit in order to be an effective disciple of Christ. All have a very serious and straightforward belief in the Bible as the inspired Word of God. Furthermore, they are all committed to discovering what the Word of God teaches and to following that teaching wholeheartedly. The list of similarities could continue at great length — the belief in the supernatural intervention of God through his grace and his gifts in the life of the church; belief in the action of God through the charismatic gifts (prophecy, healing and the rest); belief that these gifts are for the service of the body of Christ, and for the spreading of the Kingdom of God; belief in the importance of a life of worship; and a belief in the importance of a return to the fundamental principles of New Testament and early church life with an application of those principles to the life of the church today.” 34

If past experience is a predictor of future experience, we can say that charismatic renewal results in stronger Christians and therefore, stronger churches. Considering this rich history, how can anyone define the pentecostal / charismatic movements as misguided and schismatic aberrations which ought to be resisted until they pass? Certainly it must be admitted that there have been abuses and the movement has at times been divisive and harmful when there has not been mature teaching and strong shepherding. But that ought not to discourage us from the work of renewal; rather, it should challenge us to provide mature teaching and strong leadership. 

Truly it must be confessed, if we look objectively at the history of the church in the 20th and 21st centuries, we see that when the conditions have been right — that is, when Christian men and women have been willing to join hands and work together with Calvary-love, Christ-like maturity, Godly wisdom and Holy Spirit anointing — in those times and places the Charismatic / Pentecostal renewal has been the very breath of God breathing new life into a weary body.   

However, let us not romanticize this great move of God, let us not reduce it to mere sentiment — we must understand what we are praying for. We sing “Breathe on me breathe of God, fill me with life anew,” and we pray, “Holy Spirit breathe new life into us.” But in truth, the breath of God is not sweet melody set to rhyme nor is it a gentle breeze blowing across gentle prayers. The breath of God is “thunders and lightnings, and a thick cloud upon the mount and the voice of the trumpet exceeding loud” (Exodus 19:16). The living breath of the living God is more than mere renewal. To a dying world it is nothing less than a revolution of life.  

To quote again Dr. Van Dusen: “I have come to feel that the Pentecostal movement with its emphasis upon the Holy Spirit, is more than just another revival. It is a revolution in our day. It is a revolution comparable in importance with the establishment of the original Apostolic Church and with the Protestant Reformation.” 35

Those are bold words and only history will prove or disprove them. But I am challenged by them — challenged because it is obvious that something of revolutionary proportions is happening on every continent. I am challenged because it is obvious that the modern church is in desperate need of something more than just renewal — we need a spiritual revolution. I am challenged because I know that when God responds to need, He responds by calling people to respond and I want to be counted among that number. And I am challenged because I know, as a student of history, that too many times people fail to recognize a revolution until after the campaign is over.

So as we near the end of this brief, humble and woefully inadequate treatment of the Person and work of the Holy Spirit and as I consider these many centuries of divine presence and activity, I wonder if this vast outpouring that we have seen in the twentieth century and which continues into the twenty-first, is it really a revolution? As we gaze in wonder at the splendor of this fire-born church, especially in the Global South, is it something new or is this merely the recreation of who we, the Body of Christ on earth, were always called to be? Is the Holy Spirit the author of a revolution or is this not a revolution at all but merely a restoration of that which the Father, Son and Holy Spirit always intended — a church born in holy fire, purified in holy fire, empowered in holy fire.


1. John L. Sherrill, They Speak With Other Tongues (Old Tappan, New Jersey: Jove Publications', Inc., 1964), pp. 29-30.

2. Ibid., p. 30.

3. Vinson Synan, ‘Azusa Street: The Roots of Revival’, Logos Journal. March/April, 1981, p. 10.

4. Sherrill, p. 38.

5. Synan, p. 10.

6. Synan, p. 10.

7. Assemblies of God website, home page, as of 3/12/2018      (see p 2)

8. Thomas Sweets, “Transforming Leadership at Madeira Church Through an Understanding that ‘The Kingdom of God is at Hand’”, (Doctoral Dissertation, 2016 ) p. 10.

9. Ibid., p. 12.

10. Synan, p. 12.

11. Philip Jenkins, The Next Christendom: The Coming Global Christianity, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011  p. 1).

12. Ibid., p. 11.

13. Quoted in Global Pentecostal and Charismatic Healing, ed. Candy Guthner Brown, (New York: Oxford, 2001), xvii-xviii.

14. Marc Cortez, quoting Allan Anderson in: Everyday Theology, “The Growth of Global Pentecostalism” (Wheaton College Conference 4), April 16, 2014,

15. Quoted in Global Pentecostal and Charismatic Healing, ed. Candy Guthner Brown, (New York: Oxford, 2001), xvii-xviii. See also the important essay of Eugene Botha, “The New Reformation: the Amazing Rise of the Pentecostal-Charismatic Movement in the 20th century,” Studia Historiae Ecclesiasticae (2007) Vol 33, No 1, pp. 295-325. )

16. Pew Forum from the Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Mass. December 2011

17. Information provided to this author by Gospel For Asia, 2021.

18. Gospel for Asia website, 2021.

19. Episcopal Renewal Ministries, personal letter, Sept. 17, 1981.

20. Charles E, Hummel, ’The Renewal's Effect on Churches Today’, Logos Journal, March/April, 1981, p. 21.

21. “Statement of the Episcopal Charismatic Fellowship”, Acts 29, undated, p. 4.

22. Synan, p. 12.

23. Kevin M. Ranaghan, 'The Catholic Charismatic Renewal', Logos Journal. March/April, 1981, p. 26.

24. Ibid., p. 28.

25. Ibid.

26. Ibid.

27. Homiletic and Pastoral Review, FR. Mathias D. Thelen,S.T.L.  The Explosive Growth of Pentecostal-Charismatic Christianity in the Global South, and Its Implications for Catholic Evangelization.

28. Ibid.,

29. Ibid.,

30. Quoted in Matteo Calisi: “The Future of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal,” in Spirit Empowered Christianity in the 21st Century, by Thelen

31. Ralph Martin, The Catholic Church at the End of an Age: What is the Spirit Saying, (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1994), p. 87

32. John Allen: “If demography is destiny, Pentecostals are the ecumenical future,” National Catholic Reporter, Jan 28, 2008

33. John Allen, The Future Church: How Ten Trends Are Revolutionizing the Catholic Church, (New York: Image, 2009), p. 378.)

34 John Allen: “If demography is destiny, Pentecostals are the ecumenical future,” National Catholic Reporter, Jan 28, 2008)

35. Ranaghan, p. 29.

Study Questions:

1. How do you summarize or explain this vast outpouring of Holy Spirit fire during the 20th and 21st centuries?