Pentecostal Movement

Aimee Semple McPherson, religious reformer
McPherson's theatrical pulpit techniques made her the most publicized revivalist in the world (courtesy Library and Archives Canada/C-52134).

Pentecostal Movement

The Pentecostal movement in Canada reflects some of the same patterns experienced in other religious movements, including a period of initial rapid growth, a decisive tendency toward a distinctive organizational style, a slow evolution toward an "establishment" attitude, and the levelling off and fragmenting of the movement into a variety of organizations and religious trends.

The Pentecostal movement is a charismatic faith characterized by expressions of the Holy Spirit through its members. The Canadian movement does, however, have some unique features. It began with EVANGELICAL Christians who believed that the world was ripe for a spiritual revival and organized prayer services. Many early Pentecostals were from HOLINESS CHURCHES and held that the faithful must be sanctified by the Holy Spirit after they had been saved. After learning that a revival had begun under W.J. Seymour in Los Angeles, some Canadian evangelicals travelled there to participate. The first report on 9 April 1906 emphasized the signs of the revival, especially the initial sign of speaking in other languages when the believer had been filled with the Spirit.

"Speaking in Tongues"

Speaking in tongues, vocalizations that some consider a holy language, often occurs during a church or religious service. Speaking in tongues is thought to be a gift of the Holy Spirit. Pentecostal believers also perform adult baptisms. The baptism, a water immersion, is administered to adults who have accepted the faith and have established a personal connection with God. (See also BAPTISTS.)

The message of the "baptism of the Holy Spirit" was accepted first at the Hebden Mission on Queen St in Toronto. Soon ANGLICANS, MENNONITES, Roman Catholics and METHODISTS were joining those from evangelical and holiness denominations in affirming that they, like Christ's apostles on the first Christian Pentecost (Acts 2), had spoken in other, unlearned languages, as evidence of this "second blessing." In time it became accepted that "speaking in tongues" was the pre-eminent sign of the baptism of the Holy Spirit.

Hostility from local churches and the need to share their experiences led the revivalists to form the Pentecostal movement, an umbrella structure that includes a range of theological and organizational perspectives. The Pentecostal Missionary Union was formed in 1909, initially for missionary purposes. Some leaders were reluctant to formalize the movement into an organization, either because they regarded ecclesiastical governance as man-made, or because they feared the intransigence of their old church hierarchies.

By 1917 the Pentecostal society was required to register with the government to obtain building permits for churches, orphanages and schools that were necessary to accommodate the growing congregations' needs. This fact, combined with the existence of government regulations for missionaries sent abroad and the need for doctrinal and disciplinary structure within the movement, led to the formation of a number of associations. These centred on doctrinal issues (eg, the Apostolic Church of Pentecost, which rejected trinitarianism), ethnic identity (eg, the German Pentecostal Church) or locale (eg, the Pentecostal Assemblies of Newfoundland).

Largest Pentecostal Church

The largest Pentecostal church, with a present-day registered membership of over 240 000, received its charter in 1919 as the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada (PAOC), although for a time it was part of the Assemblies of God, the largest US group. Currently all trinitarian Pentecostals affiliate with each other through the umbrella organization of the Pentecostal Fellowship of North America. As Pentecostal members prospered they formed other alliances; for example, businessmen in Canada joined the Full Gospel Businessmen's Association, a North American organization embracing all business people from a variety of denominational backgrounds, including Pentecostals. Still, churches remain the foundation upon which the movement has grown.

In 1920 there were 27 Pentecostal churches; today there are more than 1100 affiliated churches in Canada. Over the years, membership in the Pentecostal church has fluctuated in Canada, just as it has in all religious denominations. Between 1981 and 1991, according to Statistics Canada, while membership in Protestant denominations overall declined, there was an increase in the Pentecostal denomination. From 1981 to 1995, Pentecostal officials estimated an increase from 300 000 to 500 000 active participants in Canadian Pentecostal churches. Membership waned into the 21st century.

Social Policy

 Pentecostals have remained firmly within evangelical bounds on questions of social policy. For example, traditionally, Pentecostal ministers could not remarry divorced people because divorce was regarded as a sign of sin; in 1993, however, within the PAOC, the policy was changed allowing remarriage. As the movement has grown more middle class, it has taken on the familiar forms of Canadian culture, adopting popular music into its ritual life and utilizing radio and television for its outreach. Pentecostals in particular have moved to the suburbs and constructed highly organized and multifaceted programs focused within large auditorium buildings. At the same time, smaller churches in rural areas or in less "desirable" neighbourhoods have been either amalgamated or closed.

Pentecostals have had similar problems as other denominations in attracting and holding sufficient ministerial staff for the small rural congregations. In some cases, independent groups will establish themselves where the larger organizations no longer wish to sustain the group financially. By the same token, independents have undertaken important initiatives among the Indigenous populations so that today it is possible to see Pentecostal churches on tiny reserves, often served by a local preacher who lives among his or her parishioners but without affiliation to any of the larger Pentecostal organizations. Hence a diversification of the movement is well established, even as it appears the original impetus has waned.

A good example of this trend is that of the TACF. Held as an important "outpouring of the Spirit," it took place at the independent Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship in 1994. Dramatic charisms, especially holy "drunkenness" and laughter drew people from all over the globe, resulting in the revival being dubbed "The Toronto Blessing." Offshoots from this Pentecostal expression sprang up in other major countries of the world, even as the TACF itself has declined from internal stresses and problems.

Pentecostals in Canada have been more restricted in their use of television than their American counterparts. There, preachers such as Oral Roberts drew a massive number of followers through TV; in Canada, the CRTC has restricted the use of national TV for denominational purposes. The most recognized Pentecostal TV evangelist in Canada was David Mainse, former host of 100 Huntley Street, whose message was required to be nondenominational in its emphasis. Historically, Canada's best-known Pentecostal preacher was Ontario evangelist Aimee Semple MCPHERSON, who moved to Los Angeles and established the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel, an American organization with branches in Canada.