Pentecostalism rose from humble beginnings at the dawn of the 20th century to become one of the largest worldwide movements within Christianity. Pentecostalism encompasses over 700 distinct denominations with over 500 million adherents in congregations ranging from small house churches to the world's largest Christian congregation -- Yoido Full Gospel Church in South Korea, which has over 20,000 members. It is thought that more than 1 in 4 Christians in the world today are Pentecostal.

Methodist-Holiness Roots

Pentecostalism traces its roots to a Methodist-Holiness revival which began in the late 19th century. Non-Pentecostals that share this heritage include Nazarene, Wesleyan and Free Methodist churches. The Methodist-Holiness revival focused on a literal interpretation of the Bible and calling people to turn from their sins. Their preaching, which was often energetic and emotional, encouraged people to seek God for salvation and sanctification, which they define as becoming holy by the work of God in one's life. Some Methodist-Holiness preachers -- especially those who were influential to Pentecostalism -- also taught that God offered a "third blessing" -- the "baptism in the Holy Ghost" -- though they differed on what exactly the baptism in the Holy Ghost was.

Distinctive Doctrine

The Pentecostal movement started in 1901 when students at Bethel Bible College in Topeka, Kansas, came to the conclusion that "speaking in tongues" was the initial scriptural evidence of the baptism in the Holy Ghost. Initially, some of the students believed that speaking in tongues would enable those who received the baptism in the Holy Ghost to speak in actual languages they had never learned, but Pentecostals soon concluded that speaking in tongues allowed them to speak in a heavenly prayer language unintelligible to anyone but God and those to whom he gave the ability to interpret. This teaching quickly became the hallmark of the Pentecostal movement and remains its distinctive doctrine today.

Spiritual Gifts

In addition to speaking in tongues, Pentecostals believe that God has restored a number of spiritual gifts mentioned in the New Testament to the church. These include the interpretation of tongues, which Pentecostals believe is necessary when someone speaks in tongues in the context of a public worship service, prophesy, divine healing and discernment of spirits (supernaturally knowing whether something comes from God or is demonic in nature). Most Pentecostals believe that God distributes these gifts to his people in his timing and when they are needed to encourage or correct believers. An offshoot of the Pentecostal movement -- known as the Latter Rain Movement -- taught that those who had been given a spiritual gift could bestow it on others by laying hands on them.

Trinitarian

The majority of Pentecostals accept the orthodox Christian understanding that God has revealed himself as a "Trinity." The Assemblies of God -- the world's largest Pentecostal denomination -- says this in its doctrinal statement: "The one true God has revealed Himself as the eternally self-existent "I AM," the Creator of heaven and earth and the Redeemer of mankind. He has further revealed Himself as embodying the principles of relationship and association as Father, Son and Holy Spirit." Other Pentecostal denominations that accept this position on the nature of God include the Church of God in Christ, the Church of God International, the Pentecostal Church of God, the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel and the Pentecostal Holiness Church.

Apostolic

Within two years of the forming of the Assemblies of God (1914), one third of its ministers broke off in support of a new teaching that challenged its method of baptism and understanding of the Trinity. This group became today's Apostolic Pentecostals -- sometimes referred to as "Oneness," or "Jesus Only" Pentecostals because of their distinctive teaching that Jesus alone is God and that the Father, Son and Holy Ghost are simply ways in which he has manifested himself to mankind and their insistence that baptism is only valid if the words "in Jesus' name" are pronounced over the baptismal candidate (as opposed to the traditional "in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost"). Denominations that identify themselves with the Oneness movement include the United Pentecostal Church International, the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World, the Pentecostal Assemblies of Jesus Christ and the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ of the Apostolic Faith.