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For students of Church history — actual and amateur — there is no finer summary from the Reformation to the present day than Tim Naab’s Pentecostal History page. (H/T: Reformation Anglicanism — thank you!)

Catholics often accuse Protestants of an incapability to make up their minds about what church they ultimately want to be members of, however, in response, they should note that all the smaller denominations which Naab lists — also see his Too Many and Pentecostal Denominations pages — came from Holiness and Pentecostalist movements rather than from the Reformation churches. Yes, the Reformation churches have had some splits, but nowhere near the frequency and number that these 19th and 20th century movements have had.

Could it be the emotion-driven — ‘enthusiastic’ — orientation of these church members which drives them to keep splitting off into more discrete congregations? They think with their hearts and not their heads. Some splits happened because, with the best will in the world, early 20th century Holiness and Pentecostal adherents were unable to gather for bi-racial conferences which were hampered by America’s segregation laws. It was more expedient for them to reluctantly agree to split into racially-determined churches of similar enough names to be recognised by other congregants.  That said, in general, most of the splits occurred because of religious disagreement. I hesitate to use the word ‘theological’ as most of them don’t have much in the way of formal theology, which is deemed unnecessary.  You can read Naab’s potted histories to verify this. It’s all experiential. (This post of mine discusses the ‘testimony’ experience.)

These are the denominations where, largely, ‘pastor as prophet’ and ‘touch not mine anointed’ are the order of the day. Meanwhile, the members must be born again in the Spirit, otherwise, they face accusations of lack of faith or demon possession.

Even John Wesley — inspiration for the post-Methodist Holiness and Wesleyan churches and, by extension, Pentecostalism — wrote in his sermon ‘The Nature of Enthusiasm’:

As to the nature of enthusiasm, it is, undoubtedly a disorder of the mind; and such a disorder as greatly hinders the exercise of reason. Nay, sometimes it wholly sets it aside: it not only dims but shuts the eyes of the understanding. It may, therefore, well be accounted a species of madness.

Enthusiasm there, and in a theological sense, refers to charismatics and continuationism.

Two centuries earlier, John Calvin had this to say in his Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book 1, Chapter 9:

Those who, rejecting Scripture, imagine that they have some peculiar way of penetrating to God, are to be deemed not so much under the influence of error as madness. For certain giddy men[1] have lately appeared, who, while they make a great display of the superiority of the Spirit, reject all reading of the Scriptures themselves, and deride the simplicity of those who only delight in what they call the dead and deadly letter.

Note that both men mention ‘madness’, alluding to a leaving of one’s senses where faith is concerned.

Much better to be a Berean, absorbing Christian doctrine whilst seriously and quietly reading and dividing Holy Scripture.

For more information on some of the denominations Naab — himself raised as a Pentecostalist — see his many additional links as well as the ‘Pietism and Small Groups’ and ‘Evangelical and Enthusiasm’ topics on my Christianity / Apologetics page.

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