This post is the third entry in a series by Dr. Rick Waldrop. In this series he explores the relationship between Pentecostalism and the global poor. New posts every Friday! Series Links: First Things, History and Contexts, People of the Book

People of the Book

Here we will mention some salient features or contours of Pentecostal theology especially as they relate to the poor. First, Pentecostals have generally been touted as being “people of the book”. This affirmation may be more complex than it appears. Globally speaking, and especially among the poor and illiterate, it can be questioned whether or not Pentecostals have the same view of Scripture as their Evangelical and Fundamentalist counterparts. The doctrine of biblical inerrancy does not necessarily play well into a Pentecostal understanding of the dynamic relationship that exists between Scripture, Spirit and community of faith, as explained in the groundbreaking work of Pentecostal theologian, Kenneth J. Archer[1].  In any case, there can be no doubt of the very high regard that Pentecostals have of Scripture and their attempts to adhere to its teaching as they variously understand them to be. One of the early defining Pentecostal statements regarding Scripture comes from the Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee) although it may not be original to that body. It states, “The Church of God stands for the whole Bible, rightly divided, and for the New Testament as the only rule of government and discipline”[2].

Pentecostals and Luke-Acts

In terms of specific sections of Scripture, according to many Pentecostal scholars and pastoral practitioners [3], the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles, considered together to be Lucan literature, have the most prominent place in the Pentecostal “canon”. In the Gospel of Luke, for example, much emphasis is given to various themes that have attracted Pentecostal interest such as the Holy Spirit at work in the lives of Zacharias, Mary, Elizabeth, Simeon, and John the Baptist, as well as the descent of the Spirit upon Jesus at his public baptism by John, and Jesus’ own reference to the Spirit’s anointing at the beginning of his Messianic Proclamation in Nazareth (Luke 4: 18). Another theme in Luke with strong Pentecostal appeal is prayer. Jesus is shown to be in prayer on nine occasions while two exclusively Lucan parables are dedicated to the centrality of prayer in the life of the disciples (Lk. 18: 1-8; 18:9-14). Deliverance from demons is another topic dealt with on at least seven occasions in Luke. This appeal to the supernatural, miraculous power of God for divine healing and deliverance has been a staple of Pentecostal praxis from the beginning of the movement. The privileged place of women and children in Luke’s gospel also points to the strong presence and participation of both of these groups in Pentecostal churches.

Moving on to Acts of the Apostles, there are obvious connections between Pentecostal experience and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, not only in Acts 2, but in other references to receiving the Spirit in Acts 8, 9, 10, 11 and 19. The accompanying experience of speaking in tongues (Acts 2, 10 and 19) has been a hallmark of the Pentecostal movement from its inception. The earlier referenced prophethood of believers, in word and deed, is another mark of Luke-Acts that Pentecostals have taken very seriously. By prophethood, we refer to anointed speech as in preaching or prophetic utterances as gifts of the Spirit in order to communicate God’s words in any given situation. In the Pentecostal churches, this ability is given even to the poorest, illiterate, most unlikely persons who yield themselves to become subjects and participants in the divine mission. Glossolalia becomes, in a real sense, a kind of speech by which socio-economic, linguistic, and cultural walls are broken down. It may even be understood to be a kind of social or political protest against those mighty oppressors who wield the powers of manipulation by wealth and worldly communication.  Finally, Luke-Acts is very “Pentecostal” in the sense of the urgency of mission and evangelization. Pentecostals take quite literally Jesus’ injunction to be filled with the Spirit and to be witness to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8; Luke 24:47).

Pentecostals, Paul, and the Old Testament

From Luke-Acts, by extension, the writings or letters of the Apostle Paul, especially as they impinge upon his missionary exploits and subsequent pastoral exhortations, also have historically struck a chord among Pentecostals since they speak to the everyday lived experience of being on a pilgrimage of mission in the world but having to deal with the mundane issues of shared live in community and in society at large.

Finally, for Pentecostals, many of the narratives of the Old Testament have a special meaning. The stories of slavery, exodus, deliverance, pilgrimage, conquest, and jubilation are signpost to help remind them of, or to rehearse as in the case of Israel, the great deeds of God in favor of his people through the ages. 

[1] Kenneth J. Archer,  A Pentecostal Hermeneutic: Spirit, Scripture and Community. CPT Press, 2009.

[2] Minutes of the 68th General Assembly of the Church of God. Church of God Publishing House, 2000, p. 96.

[3] For example see Roger Stronstad’s major work, The Prophethood of All Believers.  Sheffield Academic Press, 1999, and Darío López Rodríguez’, La misión liberadora de Jesús: El mensaje del Evangelio de Lucas (Third Expanded Edition). Ediciones Puma, 2017.

Note from the Editorial Team:
Engaged Pentecostalism is a community that values open dialogue and respectful engagement from different perspectives. The views expressed above are the author's own and do not reflect those of every part of the community.

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Rick Waldrop

Author: Rick Waldrop

Dr. Richard E. Waldrop and his wife, Janice M. Waldrop, have served as career missionaries and educators with the Church of God (Cleveland) World Missions. They have served for 40 years (1976-2016) at different posts in five countries, including Guatemala, Costa Rica, Honduras, Ecuador and the USA. Today, they lead the Shalom Project, an organization aimed at providing holistic mission education and empowerment.