If you’re not familiar with agnosticism, Pentecostalism, or other words you see thrown about frequently on my blog, refer to this here little list of definitions. This is by no means exhaustive and my definitions are basic, but it should help anyone who is interested but may not understand what the hell I’m talking about.

  • Agnostic: Thomas Huxley, who coined the term, described it best: “Agnosticism is not a creed but a method… Positively the principle may be expressed as…follow your reason as far as it can carry you without other considerations. And negatively…do not pretend the conclusions are certain that are not demonstrated or demonstrable. It is wrong for a man to say he is certain of the objective truth of a proposition unless he can produce evidence which logically justifies that certainty.” My quick definition is — A person who holds the philosophical view that such things as the existence of God can be neither proved nor disproved. There is a range in agnostic viewpoints, from agnostic atheists to agnostic theists. I gravitate toward agnostic theism, which asserts that God is not yet known (by me at least), as opposed to saying he is unknowable (agnostic atheist) or that he is already known (Christian). The word comes from the Greek “gnosis,” or “knowledge,” and the prefix “a,” or “without”…so literally, “without knowledge.” Anyway, for me it is simply the best way I have to summarize my thoughts about God…I admit that I am ignorant of, for instance, the nature of God and how a human best interacts with him, and yet I seek to interact with him. So agnosticism also is more of a way by which I am trying to answer certain questions. 
  • Pentecostal: Pentecostalism is what is referred to as a Christian “renewalist” movement in theology (the study of God, etc.). Renewalist refers to the idea that certain spiritual gifts and phenomena like those experienced by the first-century Christians on the Day of Pentecost (shortly after Jesus ascended into heaven after his crucifixion and resurrection) still occur today, so the influence of God’s Holy Spirit has effectively been “renewed” in modern days. And so “Pentecostal” is a broad term to describe a variety of churches that focus on the renewal of the “gifts of the spirit.” Without going into much detail, it is often noted that a major renewal started in the early 1900s at an event called the Azusa Street Revival in Los Angeles. The characteristics of this revival are similar to the days of 1800s evangelist John Wesley. The gifts/phenomena in question include such things as speaking in tongues, healings and other miracles, prophecy, etc. There are multiple types of Pentecostal churches (a couple detailed below) although the differences between them are not always obvious. Stereotypically speaking, Pentecostals are those for whom the term “Holy Rollers” was invented, because people walking past their churches or revival tent meetings would often see them running around wildly or possibly rolling on the floor during worship. Although I no longer believe in all of what this church teaches or does, I use this label because 1) it is the village that raised me, and 2) I think  that interactions with the divine often involve things that don’t always make sense, such as intuition, hunches, silent communication, emotions, chanting, etc.
  • Assemblies of God (AG) : This is the denomination (religion) in which I grew up. This is said to be the largest of Pentecostal-affiliated denominations. Although these churches are somewhat independent, they all share the accountability structure of the Assemblies of God (AG) organization. The style of these churches draws people from other Pentecostal denominations, and they may tend to be *slightly* more reserved than, say, the UPC (see below) or other Pentecostal churches.
  • United Pentecostal Church (UPC) : I did not grow up UPC, but I’ve been around it and had UPC friends and classmates, as we had UPC-ers attending the various churches and  schools I was in. This is the denomination that’s mostly identifiable by the women in the church: They often do not significantly cut their hair and consequently wear their hair in buns atop their heads; they do not wear makeup or extravagant jewelry, and they always wear full-length skirts or dresses, looking not unlike Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints (FLDS) Mormons. This style is the result of a literal interpretation of a Bible verse that states that women should be modest and should not draw attention to themselves with special adornments. Perhaps the strictest of Pentecostal churches, the UPC also is known to discourage the use of televisions, going to movies, and other worldly distractions. The UPC also holds to the Oneness doctrine (see below) and believes that one will not go to heaven unless 1) he/she is baptized in the name of Jesus alone, as opposed to, “in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,” and 2) if they are “filled with the holy spirit with the evidence of speaking in tongues.” If one does not speak in tongues, they aren’t truly “born again.”
  • Oneness Doctrine: The belief that is opposed to the doctrine of the Trinity. The Trinity describes God as three separate entities mystically existing as one God, whereas the Oneness describes God as only one primary entity, with possibly three “manifestations.” I know…gets kinda confusing. Because this is one of the biggest points of division between the different Pentecostal theologies, I grew up being taught that the Oneness doctrine was heresy.
  • Charismatic: This term comes from a focus on the “Charisma, ” which is Greek for “gift,” of God’s Holy Spirit, which Pentecostals believe is the manifestation of God’s energy that results in various benefits to us, including health, wealth, holiness, etc. But put simply, the Charismatic movement is the modernized, updated version of what was just known as “Pentecostal.” As an interesting side note, the American Charismatic movement had its big push in the 1960s through the 80s, and it attracted a lot of hippies, many of which converted and established what is known as the Jesus Movement. Some of these post-hippie Charismatics even created commune-like communities, as the movement does emphasize a return to first-century Christian roots, which were sometimes characterized as tightly communal. Charismatics were formerly known as “neo-Pentecostals” because they believed most of what traditional Pentecostals did but they weren’t as strict. The easiest way to describe the difference is to have a Charismatic and a UPC female stand in front of you and tell you how to get saved. First off, the Charismatic will most likely be wearing normal, 21st-century clothes, the UPCer will not. Next, the UPCer will insist that you be baptized in the name of Jesus alone. The Charismatic basically thinks that baptism is important, but it doesn’t determine your salvation, and when you get baptized, it should be in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Other than that, when the songs start pumping in church, you can expect both of these types to get down, dance, shout in tongues, raise their hands, and maybe even sprint a few laps around the auditorium. Joel Osteen, pastor of America’s largest church, is Charismatic, and many mega-churches are Charismatic. Another major figure in the Charismatic tradition, perhaps the most significant, is Oral Roberts, who could be described as the first major visible neo-Pentecostal because he brought Pentecostalism into mainstream culture with his televangelism in the 1960s. My parents pretty much got in on the ground floor of the Charismatic movement in the 70s. Perhaps later I’ll explain what drew them.
  • Word-of-Faith: A subset of the Charismatic idea, the Word-of-Faith movement, or just called “Faith movement,” focuses on speech and thought that is “lined up with the Word of God.” Preaching in Word of Faith churches (or “Faith churches”) is usually characterized by a strong emphasis on positive speech and positive thinking. This idea is sometimes derisively called the “Name it and Claim it” gospel by its critics. Although known for other things, evangelists Oral Roberts and Kenneth Hagin are often credited with inspiring this movement, which has been developed and popularized by mega-church ministers such as Kenneth Copeland.
  • Prosperity Gospel: This is a further subset of the Faith movement. Again, Oral Roberts and especially Kenneth Hagin can be credited with at least inspiring this movement. The Prosperity gospel takes Word-of-Faith and applies it more specifically to material wealth, although its proponents usually clarify that they emphasize wealth “in all areas of life, not just money.” Because Faith preachers like Kenneth Copeland also have taught prosperity principles, they are also sometimes referred to as Prosperity preachers. My wife and I both were brought up in the Faith and Prosperity traditions within the Charismatic movement.
  • Tithing: Perhaps the most-emphasized principle driving the Faith and Prosperity gospels, and possibly Pentecostal Christianity in general, tithing is a doctrine related to the distribution of money into the church. It is different from giving an “offering” in that it specifies the amount that Christians should give to the Church: a “tithe,” or a tenth…10 percent. For most tithing purists, that’s defined as 10 percent of your gross income. Please note that this is not required by the church, but it is strongly encouraged and it is implied that if you are not tithing, you are not fully living within God’s will. According to many preachers, it could be said that in fact you are “stealing from God” because the tithe is God’s money that he has essentially loaned to you so you can bless the Church with it.
  • Seed-Faith: Developed primarily by Oral Roberts and Kenneth Hagin, this is the main concept on which both the Faith and Prosperity gospels rest. It centers on the principle of tithing and encourages Christians to give to support “God’s kingdom.” The idea is that money (usually) is a seed that we plant in the soil of God’s kingdom (read: the Christian Church) by donating to a ministry or person, and when we plant that seed, God not only blesses what/who you give to, but He blesses you many times over what you gave. One major point emphasized is that you should “give out of your need,” which means, for instance: If you need a new car, you shouldn’t hold onto your money…you should give it away as a seed…and God will miraculously grow that seed and it will produce fruit in your life, potentially in the form of a new car. It is important to note that seed faith assumes that you are tithing and that your “seed” donation should be usually over and above your tithe amount.

I may have additional definitions to throw in here, but this should get you started for now. If you’re just looking to burn some time, here are a few items that I don’t yet feel like defining, but will certainly give you some interesting Google or YouTube results:

Speaking in Tongues, Slain in the Spirit, Prayer Cloth, Benny Hinn, Todd Bentley (and angel Emma), Toronto Blessing, Casting out Demons, Robert Tilton (YouTube it!)

I think I’ll stop there. That’ll keep you busy for a while. Have fun.

6 Responses

  1. This is a excellent topic to talk about. I sort of found your site by mistake. Thank you for the great article. Certainly bookmarked!!

  2. […] Definitions […]

  3. Don’t have to google any of those (well, with the exception of Todd Bentley and angel Emma – somehow that one has gotten past me). I’m all too familiar with most of the above. Haven’t been around alot of it in awhile, though. In fact, now when I’m around some of the stuff I grew up around, it seems pretty creepy. :/

  4. i enjoyed your bad christians creed.i am 61 years old having spent the first 10 years of my christian experience in an evengelical traditional church and the last 17 in a non denominational charismatic church.Now just wandering the landscape looking for the wildness of God who knows where.

  5. i once was most of the above 😉

  6. Very well done my beloved friend. (and yes, I read every stinkin word)

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