By all accounts, pentecostalism and related charismatic movements represent one of the fastest-growing segments of global Christianity. At least a quarter of the world's 2 billion Christians are thought to be members of these lively, highly personal faiths, which emphasize such spiritually renewing "gifts of the Holy Spirit" as speaking in tongues, divine healing and prophesying. Even more than other Christians, pentecostals and other renewalists believe that God, acting through the Holy Spirit, continues to play a direct, active role in everyday life.
Despite the rapid growth of the renewalist movement in the last few decades, relatively little is known about the religious, political and civic views of individuals involved in these groups. To address this shortcoming, the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life recently conducted surveys in 10 countries with sizeable renewalist populations: the United States; Brazil, Chile and Guatemala in Latin America; Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa in Africa; and India, the Philippines and South Korea in Asia. In each country, surveys were conducted among a random sample of the public at large, as well as among oversamples of pentecostals and charismatics.
I believe this Pew Forum study, entitled "Spirit and Power: A 10-Country Survey of Pentecostals," sheds some interesting light on several myths regarding Pentecostal and Charismatic Christianity around the world. Among the findings of the study, a few statistics I think are interesting for us as Southern Baptists (especially in the context of cooperation and fellowship on the international mission field) are:
*(you can download the entire 233 page study here)
1. In every one of the 10 countries, Pentecostals are more likely than other Christians to say the Bible is the Word of God, to be taken literally. In 8 of the 10 countries, this is true of Charismatics as well. The exceptions are Brazil and the Philippines, where the high percentage of Charismatic Catholics (as compared to other countries, where most "Charismatics" are Protestants), no doubt skews this statistic.
2. In every one of the 10 countries, both Pentecostals and Charismatics are more likely than other Christians to say they pray to God daily, and read the Scriptures daily.
3. In every one of the 10 countries, both Pentecostals and Charismatics are more likely than other Christians to say they share their faith at least once a week.
What this study does not tell us is how we as Baptists (as a group separate from other Christians) would compare in these areas. However, I think it is significant that Pentecostals and Charismatics apparently share many of the same values we as Southern Baptist profess to hold as important. I don’t have the hard facts in front of me to prove it, but I would be surprised if the percentages of Pentecostals and Charismatics who accept the Bible as the Word of God, and who actively share their faith, are not higher than that of Baptists in most countries. I also think it is significant they are growing so fast, all around the world. I know, for example, that here in Spain, the churches that are growing the fastest are Pentecostal or Charismatic. Even within the Baptist Union, the churches that are growing the fastest almost all take a more open stance toward charismatic gifts.
From some of my recent posts, and from what I say here, some might think I am trying to convince us all as Baptists to become Pentecostals or Charismatics. I want to make clear that is not my intention. I am Baptist by conviction, and am not planning on changing my affiliation anytime soon.
The point I am trying to make then? As Baptists, a little "cross-pollination" every now and then with some of our more Pentecostal, Charismatic and/or Third Wave brethren is not necessarily a bad thing. We are concerned about declining growth and baptism rates. We are trying to get our people more excited about sharing their faith. Maybe we could learn a thing or two from some of those who seem to be having a bit more success at these things.
"But," some people say, "we must be careful that our people don’t get sucked into false doctrine. The Pentecostals and Charismatics are notorious ‘sheep-stealers.’"
I am by no means against teaching sound doctrine, especially if it is done in an up-beat, non-condemnatory attitude towards other groups of Christians. But, take a look at this statistic:
4. In 7 of the 10 countries, when Pentecostals were asked about their previous religious affiliation, a "whopping" 0% said they had previously belonged to another Protestant group. In the other 3 countries, 27% in the United States, 12% in Kenya, and 2% in South Africa, said they had previously belonged to another Protestant group.
Very interesting. In the United States, for some reason, perhaps the "sheep-stealing" accusation has a little bit of warrant. But, for some reason, in the majority of the rest of the countries around the world, the Pentecostals and Charismatics are growing, not so much by winning converts from other Protestant groups, but apparently by people being born again and accepting Christ for the first time. In Latin America, and the Philippines, a big number of their converts are former Catholics. In other parts of the world, more are from non-religious, Muslim, or Buddhist backgrounds.
Now to close, one more statistic I’ll leave you to ponder for yourself:
5. In the following countries, the percentage of Pentecostals who said they had never spoken in tongues was:
United States 49%
South Africa 41%
South Korea 18%
The percentage of Charismatics who said they had never spoken in tongues was:
United States 32%
South Africa 57%
South Korea 12%