Negative tendencies of Pentecostalism

Having already described some of the many positive characteristics to its credit, here are some of the negative tendencies of Pentecostalism. In Keep In Step with the Spirit, J. I. Paker gave 10 negative aspects of the Charismatic movement. Here again I've adapted these for the purpose of highlighting what dangers may both impede the Christlikeness of Pentecostals, and threaten the growth in Christian maturity of those who would be influenced by Pentecostalism.

1. Superiority

Pentecostalism has a predisposition towards elitism built into its theology. Restoration theology gave birth to Pentecostalism when it taught that only a new band of Spirit-filled Christians would be effective in winning the world before Christ's return. Now Pentecostalism's basic theology of Spirit-baptism insists that only those having a second-stage experience are fully empowered for Christian service. This two-class emphasis breeds an inevitable degree of pride within Pentecostal circles. Ironically, for a movement that speaks so much of unity, it by nature creates dis-unity.

2. Divergent

Pentecostalism is by habit an insular movement, as Pentecostals tend to limit their 'world' to their own movement, restricting their reading, listening and fellowship to Pentecostal sources, or at best broadening themselves to charismatic evangelicalism. Such religious isolation has the effect across generations of creating intra-cultural adaptation so that Pentecostalism is continuing to be a divergent branch of Christianity. This sectarian trend brings with it all the dangers of any cult-like movement.

3. Experience-based

By appealing too frequently to inward feelings and focusing too often on human and spiritual experience the Pentecostal movement tends towards a preoccupation with the emotional element of spirituality. Experiential and personal knowledge is set against theological knowledge. This leads to a culture of ego-focused spirituality with members who increasingly become absorbed by their own individual quests for self-fulfillment through personal encounters with God. It also creates the sub-Christian tendency to rely on, as a basis for faith, personal experiences and group culture.

4. Counter-intellectual

Pentecostalism often sets the spiritual over against the intellectual, and devalues academic study and argument, which by consequence are perceived to be essentially unspiritual. What can be anti-intellectualism regards as a higher form of knowledge that which cannot be known by natural understanding, for the Spirit goes beyond words. Pentecostals tend to major repeatedly on central home-grown themes within the movement, and as a result omitting massive sections of Scripture and Biblical doctrine. Such gross imbalance is not helped by Pentecostalism's often unwillingness to engage in in any serious consideration of counter-currents within Christianity which would disagree with their teaching or emphasis.

5. Intro-spiritual

Insistence on the importance of direct divine revelation and an over-emphasis on the importance of the Spirit's personal guidance makes Pentecostalism extremely susceptible to the influence of new movements, new teaching, and new leaders. Deluded claims, fake showmanship, false testimony, heretical teaching, all abound in a Pentecostal environment that so easily falls for every strong charismatic leader who would trumpet new insight, testify to special encounters with God and boast of closer intimacy with the Spirit than others.

6. Meritocratic

Pentecostalism so often betrays belief in the false principle that giftedness is related to maturity, and spiritual power to the visible manifestation of the Spirit's working. Pentecostal's emphasis on the 'faithfulness = fruitfulness' motto results in a culture in which spiritual health becomes proportional to the impressiveness of one's ministry. Fall out from burn out in ministry is common because, although character is esteemed in principle, in practice immaturity and unhealthy spirituality tends to run rife among Pentecostal leaders who are more focused on their performance and outward achievement than the Spirit's fruit of Christlike holiness.

7. Miracle crazed

As a movement fuelled by an expectancy of God's constant supernatural demonstration of his power and presence, Pentecostals look to see God's activity in miracles and healings. Pentecostalism sets the supernatural over against the natural. Without a solid doctrinal foundation of providence and the sovereignty of God over all things in creation, Pentecostals expect God's normal working in ways contrary to nature and common sense. Clear warnings to any movement running after signs and wonders in the last days are plainly set out in the New Testament.

8. Eden idealism

The Pentecostal ideal is Eden-like peace and prosperity in this life. Kingdom-now theology has Pentecostals hoping to achieve heaven on earth, spiritually, physically, materially and socially. Happiness is equated with godliness since victory over any type of negativity – whether doubt, sickness, poverty or anxiety – is a matter of faith in God's promises. Spiritual shipwreck from disillusionment is common among Pentecostal victims of this false hope.

9. Angelic engrossment

An over-emphasis of demonic activity and reliance on spiritual warfare tends to create an unhealthy deliverance mentality among Pentecostal circles, who can become obsessed with a fixation on angelic forces and the interpretation of end-time events, providing an enormous diversion from attention to growth in moral and spiritual maturity.

10. Majority mentality

Strong group peer-pressure is a powerful influence within Pentecostal culture, which is self-enforcing my its now enormous tidal current of conformism. Like any large movement where majority rules the persuasion of cultural norm means any attempts to buck the trend or reform from within by individuals or small groups tend to be drowned or pushed effectively to the side into schism movements. Ironically, Pentecostalism is now entrenched in tradition, perpetuating a new form of legalistic bondage.

None without need

No movement is free from weaknesses that threaten it. Many movements are endangered by elitism and other negative tendencies that characterise Pentecostalism. We should never attempt to remove grit from another's eye without first the planks from our own.

This granted, any one of these negative aspects would be sufficient to keep any movement in a state of spiritual childishness and Christian immaturity. The Apostle Paul in his epistles to the Corinthians set more than a precedent for the identification of weaknesses within the Church and the calling for their correction. My thesis is that each and every one of Pentecostalism's negative trends arises from deficiencies in the theological framework that underpins them. Here's to hoping and praying that this site will help in some small way to rebuild more adequately that foundation for some.

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Paker, J. I. Keep in Step with the Spirit. IVP, 1984, p. 183-197. talkingpentecostalism.blogspot.com | joe towns: christian discussion on pentecost, charisma, pentecostal and charismatic beliefs, the Bible and Jesus; including the origin and history of pentecostalism, baptism in the Holy Spirit, speaking in tongues, gifts and miracles, divine healing and word of faith, prosperity and wealth, praise and worship, guidance and hearing the voice of the Holy Spirit.