While Protestant churches are steadily decreasing in membership, Baptist Pentecostal preachers, with their fired-up, dramatic and passionate sermons, are drawing many new congregants toward a more fundamental path of Christianity. Shouting, singing and speaking in tongues, they may be paving the way for the future of Christianity in America.
According to the Pew Forum on Religious and Public Life, the Southern Baptists are one of the largest religious groups in the United States, second only to Catholics. Contrary to infant baptism popular with most Christian religions, Baptists believe a baptism must be performed only for believers who have accepted Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. The preacher baptizes in a pool or body of water, and fully immerses the congregant, signifying a rebirth. Baptists believe the word of the Bible is inerrant, though individual churches differ in their more progressive or conservative stances. For instance, the Southern Baptist Convention’s website states that: “While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.” Yet there are female pastors in some Baptist churches. All Baptists believe it is their mission to evangelize and spread the word of the gospel.
The Pentecostal Movement
Pentecostals believe in a baptism of the spirit, in which they may have a transformational experience where the Holy Spirit enters them. After, they may be gifted with prophecy, healing, or speaking in tongues. Some churches have even been known to practice snake handling, but this is rare. The Pentecostal movement is not a religion, but more of a religious culture. It is especially popular in black Baptist churches and in mega-churches such as the Assemblies of God. Though the Southern Baptist Convention has rebuked the Pentecostal movement, in the past several decades, Baptist Pentecostal churches like Holy Spirit Renewal Ministries and the Full Gospel Baptist Church Fellowship have begun to emerge. According to Curtis Freeman, professor of theology at Duke University Divinity School and director of the Baptist House of Studies, “the truth of the matter is that Baptists and Pentecostals share much in common. One might even argue that for all practical purposes Pentecostals are simply a branch of Baptists with a foreign-language requirement.”
Baptist Pentecostal Preaching Style
The preaching style in Baptist Pentecostal churches is markedly different than that of traditional Baptist preachers. Rather than reading Bible passages or approved Baptist sermons, the Pentecostal preacher allows himself to be moved by the Holy Spirit, and often relies on personal stories, interweaving them with scripture. He (or on rare occasion, she) is animated and passionate, shouting to the congregation, encouraging them to jump to their feet and respond. Music and singing play a major role in the services, which are lively and at times theatrical. In contrast to the stoic Protestant tradition of being well-mannered in church, Pentecostals are encouraged to dance, clap, wave their hands in the air and shout amen and hallelujah. Some services include healings or personal testimony by congregants.
Baptist Pentecostal Preachers and the Future of Christianity
A National Council of Churches 2012 report states that while traditional Protestantism is in steady decline, the Southern Baptists have kept a foothold in America, and Pentecostal churches like the Assemblies of God are on the rise. It may be that Christians are looking for moral certitudes in a confusing and ever-changing world, or perhaps the dramatic and passionate sermons of the Pentecostal preacher have drawn them. Either way, one thing is certain: the religious mood is changing, and preachers must adapt or lose their congregants.
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