The spreading fires of early Pentecostalism

Allan Anderson has a new book out: Spreading Fires: The Missionary Nature of Early Pentecostalism.

My copy is still on the way but I have read a summary article. Here are some highlights . . .

According to Anderson, Pentecostalism is probably the fastest expanding religious movement ever. Here are five of the main features of Pentecostalism that contributed to its advance from the beginning.

1. The imminent return of Christ

Early Pentecostals were convinced that their experience of Spirit baptism was a fire that would spread all over the world, a last-days universal revival to precede the return of Christ. Missionary newsletters were filled with one overriding concern: to evangelize the nations of the world before the imminent return of Christ.

2. Intercultural origins

From it's inception Pentecostalism was both interracial and intercultural. The Azusa Street Revival was led by William Seymour the son of former slaves. Within two years missionaries were circling the globe with their message of spiritual power.

At the same time, in western India, an equally influential revival was led by Pandita Ramabai at the Mukti mission. Missionaries, mostly young women, were sent throughout India and church planted. Anderson traces the origin of Chilean Pentecostalism back to India rather than North America.

3. Spirit-centered Mission

Pentecostalism grew out of a common experience of the Spirit. That experience of the Spirit led Pentecostals into world missions.

Within two years missionaries were sent out to China, India, Japan, Argentina, Brazil, Palestine, Egypt, Somalia, Liberia, Angola and South Africa.

This was the beginning of what is arguably the most significant global expansion of a Christian movement in history.

These early missionaries had no fixed plan. Many went out believing they had “missionary toungues”. Many left without any source of funds. Their sacrifices were startling. They were poor, untrained and unprepared. Many died on the field.

4. Personal Inflexibility and Adaptability

Like other foreign missionaries Pentecostals were not always sensitive to the local people and culture. Some took too much responsibility for the expansion of the faith and stifled local expressions and leadership.

The result was often secession as new converts reacted to missionary paternalism and control.

The truth was often that the national churches grew in spite of, and not because of, these missionaries, who were denying their converts' gifts of leadership. The Holy Spirit was anointing ordinary people to spread the fire to their friends, relatives, and neighbors, and even to other communities, peoples, and nations.

5. Responsive to Local Contexts

Pentecostal mission was inherently flexible, responding creatively to different contexts. Pentecostalism both absorbed and transformed the religio-cultural context wherever it went.


The wildfires of Pentecostalism were chaotic, unpredictable and out-of-control. When human organizations attempted to quench the flames, as they often did, this futile effort resulted in new fires breaking out in other places and the further proliferation of new churches.

Pentecostalism has been most successful in the Majority World where half the world's Christians live today, where forms of Christianity are very different from what Westerners often assume they must be.