Theological Roots of Pentecostalism

Adapted from a manuscript by: Larry G. Hess © 2004


Pentecostals have often viewed themselves as representing a restoration of the purity and power of the first century apostolic church. The church of the first century was a Spirit-filled, Pentecostal church. If this is true, then the Pentecostal Movement has a rich history nearly 2000 years old.

Pentecostal Roots in the Early Church

The early church (1st Century) was a Spirit-filled (Pentecostal) church. Speaking in tongues and prophecy, healing, and miracles were a normal part of the life of the church (Acts 1:8; 10:19; 13:2).

The testimonies of the great leaders of the first three centuries demonstrate that the gifts, including speaking in tongues, continued to the beginning of the fourth century.

  • Justin Martyr (A.D. 100-165)
  • Irenaeus (A.D. 125-200)
  • Tertullian (A.D. 160-240)
  • Origen (A.D. 185-284)

Many other early Christian writings confirm the ongoing manifestation of spiritual gifts in the churches beyond the forth century.

Pentecostal Roots in the Middle Ages

In the Middle Ages, the miraculous was common among those Monastic saints who had withdrawn from the world and secular society. Miracles were most often associated with the missionary expansion of the church.

During the eleventh century a spiritual renewal took place among the various Monastic orders who went about preaching and ministering to people. During this period God raised up many ministers who were filled with the fervor of the Holy Spirit. During the Middle Ages there were those devoted to the Roman Catholic Church, and those who left the church to seek a closer walk with God.

Pentecostal Roots in the Reformation

  • Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation brought a renewed commitment to the work of the Holy Spirit within the Church.
  • These radical reformers created a movement designed to reproduce as literally as possible the power and purity of the Apostolic church.
  • The Reformation redefined Christian perfection in a way that all Christians could live holy lives before God. For Luther, faith is perfection and a divine work of God within us. This work of God changes us and makes us new in Christ.
  • The Reformers were strong on teaching justification by faith, but were weak on teaching sanctification. Possibly, they avoided the doctrine of holiness in order to avoid the Roman Catholic practice of justification by works
  • The Moravians were great missionaries and forerunners of Wesleyanism and the holiness movement.

Holiness & Methodist Roots of Pentecostalism

  • The most significant precursor to Pentecostalism was the Holiness Movement, which issued from the heart of Methodism with its emphasis on sanctification.
  • The Church of God, along with many other movements, was spawned from the Protestant Reformation which produced the foundation for the Wesleyan Holiness Movement.
  • Foundational for the holiness movement is the belief that our great purpose on earth is to know, love, and to serve God in the beauty of holiness.
  • A true Christian movement must be a holiness movement because God has commanded, “Be ye holy for I am holy” (Colossians 2:16).
  • The holiness movement is characterised by Christians who seek to please God and to worship Him in Spirit and truth.
  • The Church of God today is part of this global awakening which started around the turn of the century (1900).
  • The Pentecostal movement today is part of a new great awakening which has placed more emphasis on the Holy Spirit than any other period of time since the first century.
  • Classical Pentecostals are committed to a restoration of true Biblical Christianity in the purity and power of the apostolic church. Pentecostals have sought to rediscover the power and anointing of the early church in order to be the instruments of God in reaching our own generation.
  • The Pentecostal movement erupted from among society’s disenfranchised and caused people to experience faith and hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
  • Pentecostals see themselves as true orthodox Christians who are not only Pneumatocentric but also Christocentric.
  • Pentecostal theology calls for a right relationship with God and for a walk of holiness and life in the Spirit. Walking in the light of God and the pathway of holiness requires a passionate commitment to the truth of God’s Word.

Holiness: the Core Root of Pentecostal Theology

  • Holiness is the characteristic mark of a Christian; “He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should by holy and blameless before him” (Ephesians 1:4).

o   Holiness is provided by God

o   Holiness is preserved by God

o   Holiness is perfected by God

o   Holiness is a presentation and a transformation.


  • The pursuit of holiness is essential in the life of the believer. It is the mandate of the New Testament.
  • Holiness is a conforming to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29)
  • The heart of Pentecostal spirituality is love. This holy love for God compels us to perfect holiness of life in the fear of God.
  • Passion for the kingdom calls for yielding to the Spirit as He searches our hearts and fills us with holy love.
  • The Gospel transforms us that we may bear witness to God’s love and that we may fulfil our mission. Our mission is to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with God.

Copyright 2004 by Larry G. Hess

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