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February 24, 2017

The Phenomenon of Pentecostalism in Nigeria today: Its effect on the Catholic faithful (1)

The aim of this paper is to examine the phenomenon of Pentecostalism in Nigeria today and its effects on the Catholic faithful. In doing this we shall adopt the following outline: We shall first define what we mean by Pentecostalism, and trace its modern origin and its inroad into the Roman Catholic Church, after which we shall examine why some Catholics drift to pentecostal churches, the effect of pentecostalism on the Catholic faithful and what should be done to stop their exodus to pentecostal churches.


What is Pentecostalism?

The word ‘Pentecostalism’ can be understood in two ways. The first refers to “certain elements of the Christian life, usually associated with the feast of Pentecost and Christ’s gifts of the Spirit” (Walsh, 1983:3). These elements include the charismatic ministries of the Holy Spirit manifested on the day of Pentecost in Acts of the Apostles, Chapter 2; and also those outlined by St. Paul in 1 Cor. 12:14. They are called Pentecostalism because the Holy Spirit began these manifestations in the Church on the day of Pentecost. They include speaking in tongues, healing, miracles, discern­ment of spirits, prophecy, wisdom, understanding (1 Cor.12:1-9). Understood in this sense, Pentecostalism is the experience of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Catholic Church – an experience that is brought into focus every year when the Church celebrates the feast of Pentecost. The word is seldomly used in this sense.


Pentecostalism can also be understood as a movement towards the activities of the Holy Spirit outside the Catholic Church. It is in this sense that David Crystal uses the term when he defines it in The Barnes and Noble Encyclopedia as “A modern Christian renewal movement inspired by the descent of the Holy Spirit experienced by the Apostles at the first Christian Pentecost (Acts 2). It is marked by the reappearance of speaking in tongues, prophecy, and healing”. It is in this later sense that the term will be used in this paper.

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Origin of Pentecostalism

The Pentecostal movement began towards the end of the nineteenth century as a sect within North American Protestantism, promoted principally by Baptist and Methodist preachers. As early as 1886 the “Latter Rain Movement” was founded in an American Baptist Community. It preached a new, last outpouring of the Holy Spirit before the return of Christ. Some years later (1892) the first ecstatic phenomena appeared among Baptists at Liberty, Tennessee, after they had received what they called “Baptism of the spirit”.

The Baptist Free Church excommunicated those concerned and a Methodist minister formed them into the “Holiness Church”, which later adopted the title “Church of God”. A whole series of similar foundations with the same name followed. One that acquired part­icular importance was the Pentecostal community started by the Negro Pastor Seymour at Los Angeles in 1906. It spread to a number of other American states and to Europe as well. The individual Pentecostal Church in the U.S.A. united in lose federations as “Assemblies of God” and “Churches of God”. Later on some also began using the name “Pentecostal Church”.

Initially these groups claimed that their followers directly felt the same grace of the Holy Spirit that was manifested in the charisms of the early Christians, for example, the gift of tongues and of healing. Those Pentecostal communities taught that it is possible to be completely exempt from sin on earth. They preached an enthusiastic way of living piety which was often linked to ecstasy. Their Christianity had no dogmas because they consi­dered that the Holy Spirit inspires the faithful directly in all that is necessary for salvation.

These Pentecostals also hold that the Holy Spirit intervenes directly in the private interpretation of the Bible, a principle common to all sects and denomination of protestant origin. Hence they do not recognise the existence of a magisterium enlightened by God. Rather they leave everything to religious individualism, especially in regard to the interpretation of the exact meaning of the word of God. There are countless protestant Pentecostal groups vying with one another in their emotional extremism. Within the diversity of their potentially infinite doctrinal views, the diff­erent sects coincide in rejecting infant baptism and also confirma­tion. Instead they call for a “baptism of the Spirit”.

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Within the institutionalized protestant sects, charismatic groups were first set up among the Episcopalians in California (1958), then in the Lutheran Church in the United States (1962) and five years later among Presbyterians. Here too, these different protestant sects affirmed that one can experience the phenomenon of speaking strange tongues, that is, glossolalia. The first groups to accept the phenomenon were the Baptists and the Methodists, from which the two founders of the Pentecostal Church had been expelled in 1892.

By 1963, speaking in strange tongues was fully in vogue in American Protestantism. That same year after serious study James Pike, the Episcopalian Bishop of California, prohibited his subjects from participating in Pentecostal meetings and declared that manifestations of glossolalia (speaking in tongues) were of natural origin and constituted a grave danger for the Christian faith of those who cultivated them.

Monsignor Konrad Algermissen, a pioneer of Catholic Ecumenical studies in his verdict on the Pentecostal movement, declared that “there can be no question of a second outpouring of the Holy Spirit bestowed through ‘Baptism of the spirit’ or ‘anointing of the spirit’. Man, who is born again through grace and baptism or penance, and is thus objectively sanctified cannot attain here on earth, the perfect subjective sinlessness and sanctity promised to its members by the Pentecostal movement”.

The Pentecostal or Charismatic Movement began among Catholics in 1966 with Ralph Keifer and Patrick Bourgeois, laymen and lectur­ers in Theology at Duquesne Catholic University in Pittsburgh.

Both men attended a Congress of the Cursillo where they met Steve Clark and Ralph Martin who were student activists in St. John’s Parish, East Lansing, Michigan, U. S. A.

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By this time Steve was reading a book “The Cross and the Switch Blade” written by a Protestant Pastor, David Wilkerson. This book describes how the pastor (Wilkerson) out of his inner impulse abandoned his parish ministry with its salary to minister to drug addicts, prostitutes, alcoho­lics and juvenile delinquents, in the slums of New York. Another book which influenced them was the one read by Ralph Keifer titled They Speak in Other Tongues by John Sherrill. The book describes the history of the pentecostal communities and spiritual renewal within protestant denominations. “In their struggles with apathy and unbelief among college students, they (Keifer and Bourgeois) realised they needed the kind of power that Wilkerson seemed to possess”.

The Cross and the Switch Blade made it clear to them that “The Holy Spirit is what they needed for such a marvellous act of Christian charity and strong zeal for Christian activities”.

Ignoring the Bishop of Pittsburgh, John Wreght, Keifer and Bourgeois consulted an Episcopalian Pastor named Lewis who referred them to a Protestant Pentecostal prayer group.

At the prayer meeting of the group on January 13th, 1967, they requested baptism of the Holy Spirit and were excited to discover that they could speak in strange tongues.

Returning to Desquesne University, they initiated other Catholics into the pentecostal rite, and the movement grew rapidly. Soon there were also groups at the University of Notre Dame and other Catholic centres. The movement came to Nigeria in 1974.

To be contd.   

By  Prof. Michael Ogunu

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