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“War is not the will of God, this we know.”
– Folke Thorell, Evangelii Härold, 1967.
“God will let the satanic rearmament of nuclear weapons and biological warfare strike the godless themselves in forms of plagues that will exterminate large portions of humanity.”
– Folke Thorell, Evangelii Härold, 1968.
Pentecostals were the largest religious group among conscientious objectors in Sweden between 1967 and 1971, a time characterized by passionate debates on the ethics of war in the shadows of Vietnam and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In my master’s thesis on church history, I aimed to review and analyze how the Pentecostal periodicals Evangelii Härold and Dagen described and ethically motivated military violence and pacifism during this period.
The purpose was to identify potential motivations for pacifism and/or military support during a time when a large number of Pentecostals refused to bear arms, with particular interest in how these motivations related to ethical evaluation on contemporary wars.
The findings were fascinating. Pacifism and conscientious objection were regularly promoted and seldom criticized, while most contemporary military violence was condemned with one glaring exception: Israeli warfare.
Folke Thorell, quoted above, thought that God principally is against war, but allows them to fulfill his eschatological plans and even engages himself in warfare. He envisioned two-thirds of all Jews to die in a future third world war involving nuclear bombs, a genocide so brutal it would make the Holocaust seem “minuscule” in comparison.
Unlike the American war effort in Vietnam, Israel’s wars were commonly viewed as eschatologically significant and biblically predicted holy wars, with several writers suggesting that God himself has waged and will wage war on Israel’s behalf. Pacifism was primarily motivated by obedience to the Bible rather than empathy, fitting with Lisa Cahill’s theory of obediential pacifism being distinct from empathic pacifism in the Christian tradition.
Support for Israeli warfare was also derived from biblical interpretation, primarily based on Old Testament texts. It was further motivated by ideas of Jewish suffering and death being part of God’s plan, with several Pentecostal writers speculating that an apocalyptic genocide would precede the second coming of Christ.
Many Pentecostals did not see this as standing in conflict with personal pacifism and conscientious objection, as both views were perceived as biblical.
Future research could further explore the relationship between Pentecostal eschatology and empathy, along with how mid-century Pentecostal Zionism might have been influenced by antisemitic ideas from the 1930’s.
It’s easy to laugh at all the insane conspiracy theories floating around right now, with people claiming that coronavirus vaccine will kill you, change your DNA or transform you into a satanist. But really, it’s nothing short of a catastrophic tragedy that millions of people seriously believe these kinds of things.
As Christians, we should be extra alarmed by the fact that evangelicals seem to be more prone to believing and spreading COVID conspiracy theories than others.
YouTube, TikTok and other Internet platforms have no lack of Christians claiming to “prophesy” that the vaccine will insert microchips or that nurses will try to kill you if you don’t want to get vaccinated.
Apparently, the fact that many Pentecostals got their Trump prophecies wrong has not kept Internet preachers from using prophecy to push their own agenda.
To combat this pandemic of misinformation, Christian leaders need to speak up. This is exactly what the superintendents of the Pentecostal churches in the Nordic countries – Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden – decided to do last week. In a joint statement, they warned against conspiracy theories and YouTube prophets, telling their flock to listen to medical authorities and take the vaccine.
Here’s an excerpt of what they wrote:
Parts of those who sort under the Pentecostal-Charismatic umbrella in the body of Christ, must be self-critical in their evaluation in regard to their promotion of prophecies and conspiracy theories. No significant prophetic voices did foresee the arrival of the virus. We urge those prophets who now spend energy on scaring people with the consequences of the virus, and warning against taking the vaccine, to be more cautious. The church and the world need prophetic voices, but not “YouTube prophets” who do not stand accountable to anyone but themselves.
Therefore, we ask the Pentecostal churches in the Nordic Countries to be in prayer, and make aticons based on love for our neighbor, and not based on fear. There is no contradiction in devoting one’s life in prayer, at the same time as we listen to the advice from the health officials. The political leaders are not combating the churches, they combat the virus.
For the five of us this means that we will follow the advise of the health officials in our respective countries in regard to social distancing for as long as it is needed, as well as taking the COVID-19 vaccine when it is our turn in line. At the same time we will continue to pray and remain vigilant in our calling, serving God in caring for the people around us.
The question is: when will we see similar statements from Pentecostal leaders in other countries?
The Pentecostal World Fellowship has produced some excellent material about COVID-19 that will be handed out in areas with limited access to information. Through Pentecostal churches and networks, it will hopefully reach 100 million people.
“As far as I know, this is the first time ever that the Pentecostal global network has coordinated an informational campaign about an urgent crisis in society in this way. We hope we will reach out to people in churches all over the world and be able to contribute in limiting and reducing the spread of COVID-19 in societies. This is a chance to be there for marginalized groups who might otherwise not be reached,” Niclas Lindgren, director of Swedish organization PMU that has helped producing the material, said in a statement.
Some examples of the advice provided in the material:
- If someone gets COVID-19, it does not mean they have a spiritual ailment or they are punished by God.
- No person should be stigmatized for contracting COVID-19 or blamed for having had little faith.
- Encourage those who are very sick to seek medical attention according to the national health guidelines (see the example set by Jesus in Luke 17:14).
- No person should be condemned for having practiced caution, remained home or avoided physical greetings. Instead, the exemplary behavior should be highlighted in the church.
- The importance of praying for the affected; comforting and encouraging those who are experiencing fear and anxiety.
Last week, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed receives his Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, Norway. We’re very excited here at Pentecostals & Charismatics for Peace & Justice since this is the second time in a row that a Pentecostal is being awarded this prestigious prize.
Some have the impression that Ahmed is hiding his Pentecostal faith for diplomatic reasons: his nation is divided among both ethnic and religious lines. I recently spoke to Dr Jörg Haustein at Cambridge University who is an expert on Ethiopian Pentecostalism. He told me this wasn’t exactly the case.
“I don’t think he de-emphasizes his Pentecostal faith, but he’s very aware of which audience he is speaking to”, Dr. Haustein says. “There are videos on YouTube, not put up by him but by others, where he’s very Pentecostal in his rhetoric. He knows how to employ his faith in a more plural religiously appealing manner, but it’s also empowering him in the bold things that he’s done. He actually feels that he’s doing God’s work, and that this is what he needs to be doing at this time.”
Ahmed is actually not the first Pentecostal Prime Minister of Ethiopia, his predecessor Hailemariam Desalegn was a Oneness Pentecostal. Dr. Haustein has previously researched his faith and rise to power. I ask him how Pentecostals ended up as top politicians in the country. (more…)
Originally posted at PCPJ.
I used to think that Pentecostalism started with the Azusa Street revival in Los Angeles 1906, preceded by events at Charles Fox Parham’s Bethel Bible College in Kansas 1901. From the US, Pentecostalism then spread rapidly across the world, impacting Africa, Europe, Asia and Latin America so that it became the global phenomenon we know of today.
I know realize that I was severely wrong.
To be fair, the Azusa revival had a tremendous impact and is surely among the roots of Pentecostalism. But it’s not the only one. In fact, it is not the earliest. Frank Bartleman, one of American Pentecostalism’s most important pioneers (and a pacifist), acknowledged that “The present world-wide revival was rocked in the cradle of little Wales. It was ‘brought up in India, following; becoming full-grown in Los Angeles later.” While the Welsh revival was quite different than what Pentecostalism became known for, the Indian revival wasn’t. (more…)
I’ve just had the privilege of listening to Dr. Denis Mukwege as he visited Stockholm. PMU and Läkarmissionen, two Christian aid organizations that have supported Mukwege and the Panzi Hospital for decades. We celebrated Mukwege with music, speeches and donations. Among other things, we sang Mukwege’s favorite hymn, “The Promises will Never Fail” (Löftena kunna ej svika) by Swedish Pentecostal leader Lewi Pethrus, in Swedish and Swahili.
Missionary and nurse Kerstin Åkerman pointed out how prophetic Mukwege is. He has this ability – naturally or supernaturally – to have a visionary mindset and see things before they happen. For example, he stressed the importance of starting the building process of the Panzi Hospital quickly in 1998. Nobody understood why. (more…)
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the end of the ”War to End All Wars”: World War One. It directly killed nine million combatants and seven million civilians. Furthermore, it contributed to the spread and severity of epidemics that killed an additional 100 million people.
And here’s the really embarrassing part: with few exceptions, WW1 was a war in which Christians killed other Christians. Catholics fought other Catholics; Protestants fought other Protestants. People who claimed to follow Jesus slaughtered their supposed brothers in the trenches because their leaders – many of which claimed to have been appointed by God – ordered them to.
Madness. Utter, disgraceful madness. (more…)
Originally posted at PCPJ.
These days, love of God is often mixed up with love of country, patriotism and national pride. This was not the case with most early Pentecostals. In line with their pacifism, many influential Spirit-filled leaders criticized patriotism and nationalism. Here are some examples:
Charles Fox Parham (4 June 1873 – c. 29 January 1929) was an American preacher who was instrumental in the formation of Pentecostalism.
The past order of civilization was upheld by the power of nationalism, which in turn was upheld by the spirit of patriotism, which divided the peoples of the world by geographical boundaries, over which each fought the other until they turned the world into a shamble. The ruling power of this old order has always been the rich, who exploited the masses for profit or drove them en masse to war, to perpetuate their misrule.
The principle teachers of patriotism maintaining nationalism were the churches, who have lost their spiritual power and been forsaken of God. Thus, on the side of the old order in the coming struggle, will be arrayed the governments, the rich, and the churches, and whatever forces they can drive or patriotically inspire to fight for them. On the other hand the new order that rises out of the sea of humanity knows no national boundaries, believing in the universal brotherhood of mankind and the establishment of the teachings of Jesus Christ as a foundation for all laws, whether political or social.
Charles F. Parham, Everlasting Gospel, pp. 27-28. (more…)
Originally published at pcpj.org.
Ever since rev. Campbell Morgan called Pentecostalism “the last vomit of Satan” and the Los Angeles Times warned the public about the “new sect of fanatics [that] is breaking loose” from Azusa Street, Spirit-filled Christians have had a bad rap. Other Christians as well as non-Christians oftentimes find us weird, and sometimes a bit dangerous. A lot of those perceptions are based on myths and misconceptions. Here are nine common beliefs about Pentecostals and Charismatics that are totally wrong.
1. It’s a small movement
Depending on where you’re located, the Pentecostal and Charismatic (P&C) movement might seem pretty small. But when you look at it on a global level, it turns out that 600 million people are P&Cs. 200 million are Pentecostals, 100 million are charismatic Catholics, and 300 million are charismatics in a big variety of denominations and churches. Since the number of P&Cs amounted to around zero in the beginning of the 20th century, the P&C movement is commonly described as the fastest growing religious movement in the world.
2. It’s a Cult
I’ve heard surprisingly many casually state “All of Pentecostalism is a cult”, to which I like to respond “That’s about as true as the statement ‘The moon is a tomato’.” Cult is not synonymous with “religion I don’t like”, it has an academic meaning of an isolated group with an authoritarian leader, and while there surely are several sad examples of charismatic churches that have developed into cults it is simply ridiculous to claim that we all would be part of some sort of Jonestown. At least that’s what my Leader tells me and he’s always infallible when he drinks goat blood.
I’ve been arguing for years that churches today need to look like they did in New Testament times – Jesus-centred, fully charismatic, publicly evangelistic, home based, and practising community of goods. Now churches like this are very rare as you probably have noted yourself. Even among Pentecostals and charismatics it is rare that the church publicly evangelise, they usually have church buildings and they almost never have community of goods.
Isn’t this a clear indication that I’m simply mistaken on what qualifies as a Biblical church? Not necessarily. Arguments for what a Biblical church should look like should always be based on the Bible, not popular opinion. If Christians who don’t practice community can’t defend their position biblically, it doesn’t matter how many they are.
In fact, whatever one thinks that a Biblical church looks like one has to admit that there have been historical periods where very few have been part of such a church. The Catholic and Orthodox dominance for over a thousand years would be such a period for us protestants. And even modern Catholics rarely agree with previous Catholic opposition to freedom of religion and endorsement of torture and crusades. (more…)
My newest video on the HSA Youtube channel is about the Azusa Now event in Los Angeles last month and how the Lord put the Azusa Street revival on my heart six years ago. What the Lord did there is absolutely amazing. Just take a look at this testimony from the first issue of the Azusa magazine Apostolic Faith, published in September 1906:
A Mohammedan, a Soudanese by birth, a man who is an interpreter and speaks sixteen languages, came into the meetings at Azusa Street and the Lord gave him messages which non but himself could understand. he identified, interpreted and wrote in a number of the languages.
Not only were the miracles at Azusa astonishing but its still ongoing global impact is breathtaking. In the video I refer to my PCPJ interview with Jennifer Miskov who has written a book called Ignite Azusa together with Baker, Johnson and Lou Engle. She argues that a new revival greater than that of Azusa will birth a new Jesus Movement that combines miracles with community living and total reconciliation between people.
Amen to that!
The Assemblies of God (AoG), the biggest Pentecostal denomination in the US, has famously argued that it is impossible for Christians to be possessed; no one who has received the Holy Spirit, they say, can be overtaken by demonic forces. This differs from the view shared by many neo-Pentecostals, charismatics, Catholics as well as many Pentecostals in the majority world (Asia, Africa and Latin America), who all say that Christians might actually become demonized.
When John Wimber, the founder of the Vineyard movement, was asked if he believed that Christians could have demons, he provokingly replied “Well yeah, I’ve cast them out of pastors!” His wife Carol wrote in her biography about her husband something like: “When we encountered a demon, we simply cast it out – without checking baptismal records. What else could we do? Wait until they become Hindus and then cast them out?”
Now, AoG-folks and like-minded may object that such allegorical evidence does not mean much compared to arguments from Scripture. Which is generally true, although in this particular case the usual claim concerning extra-Biblical supernatural phenomena – it’s a demonic deception! – is quite counterproductive. But the Bible is always important in theological matters, so let’s have a look. (more…)
This is an excerpt from the first draft of my upcoming book on radical charismatic church history.
In the beginning of the 20th century, China was suffering from the Boxer uprising, where Mandarin nationalists revolted against European colonial influences, demanding that everything foreign, especially Christianity, should be thrown out. The Boxers were crushed by colonial forces but that didn’t put an end to the social unrest, and China continued to suffer from looting, violence and xenophobia. And yet, Pentecostalism spread rapidly throughout China, much thanks to the Holy Spirit and a guy called Mok Lai Chi (1868-1926) in Hong Kong.
Mok went to the slums of Wan Chai, preaching the Gospel and healing the sick. In 1908 he started a paper called Wuxunjie Zhenlibao, Pentecostal Truths, which was spread not just in Hong kong but across the mainland. Mok explained in the paper: “Hong Kong Pentecostal Mission is a Jesus church founded by the Chinese themselves, not a branch of any foreign churches planted in my nation.”
The Mission supported Bible classes and girl schools, as well as church planting. Mok Lai Chi both cared for people’s salvation and the social problems they experience here and now; protesting against the British colonial government in 1921 for allowing the rents in the city to be too high. (more…)