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The Dividing Line

Understanding and Applying Biblical Separation
Chapter 10

Rise of the Charismatic Movement

The transformation of Pentecostalism into Neo-Pentecostalism—or as it is better known, the Charismatic movement—was the result of several factors. On the one hand, Pentecostals reached out to the mainstream of American religion. But the event that really launched the movement was when the mainstream reached out to Pentecostalism.

The first Pentecostal outreach toward the mainstream was Pentecostal interest in the ecumenical movement. The career of David DuPlessis, a man often called "Mr. Pentecost," illustrates this trend. Born in South Africa in 1905, DuPlessis became a Pentecostal minister after his conversion. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, he made acquaintance with others of his denomination at various worldwide Pentecostal meetings, and as a result, he moved to the United States in 1949. In 1951 he approached the World Council of Churches (WCC) to promote both recognition of Pentecostalism and involvement by Pentecostals in the ecumenical movement. DuPlessis appeared as an observer in many ecumenical meetings, such as the WCC gatherings at Evanston, Illinois (1954), and New Delhi (1961), and the Roman Catholic Vatican Council of the 1960s.

A second outreach was the effort of Oral Roberts to move into the mainstream. An evangelist in the Pentecostal Holiness Church, Roberts became one of the best-known Pentecostal preachers in the nation in the 1950s and 1960s through his tent meetings and television program. Roberts eventually rose to prominence in the Charismatic movement by expanding his ministries to include non-Pentecostals. He did so by founding the nondenominational, but Charismatic, Oral Roberts University (1965) and by joining the United Methodist Church (1968).

A third outreach involved changing the social perception of Pentecostalism. From its beginning, the Pentecostal movement was strongest in rural areas and among the urban blue-collar working classes. This fact created a sort of snobbery against it as a "lower-class" religion. A conscious effort to change this image was the founding of the Full Gospel Business Men's Fellowship International in 1951 by Demos Shakarian. The FGBMFI clearly demonstrated that Pentecostals had appeal among the white-collar workers of the upper middle class. Also, although the FGBMFI was at first composed only of Pentecostals, it is independent of any denomination. Therefore, when the Charismatic movement began to grow, the organization appealed to converts in all denominations.

These activities all contributed to the rise of the Charismatic movement. The event that really sparked the movement, however, came in 1960. Dennis Bennett, pastor of St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Van Nuys, California, "received the gift" and began to speak in tongues. Significantly, Bennett did not leave the Episcopal Church and join a Pentecostal group but remained within his denomination.

Bennett's conversion represented a great shift. Pentecostal teaching began to invade mainstream denominations and became a widespread phenomenon. Tongues-speaking spread like wildfire and Charismatics began to appear among Baptists, Lutherans, Methodists, and even Catholics. The first mass gathering of Pentecostals and Charismatics was held in 1977 in Kansas City. Fifty thousand people attended, representing some fifty million Pentecostals and Charismatics around the world. Fully half of those attending were Roman Catholics.3

Much like Fundamentalists after the 1920s, Charismatics began to build their own network of schools, periodicals, and fellowships. They attracted public attention through their efforts at television broadcasting. Oral Roberts's successful program paved the way for these efforts, but it was Charismatic Southern Baptist Pat Robertson who achieved the greatest renown. Starting with just one television station in 1961, Robertson built an enormous television empire. The popularity of his program The 700 Club helped create his Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN). CBN in turn helped launch other institutions, such as Regent University. Television success also gave Robertson a platform for political ventures. He ran unsuccessfully for the Republican presidential nomination in 1988. Later he founded the Christian Coalition, a political-action organization that replaced the Moral Majority as the major voice of the religious right. Robertson was but the most visible of a number of Charismatic ministers and "television personalities."


The Dividing Line: Understanding and Applying Biblical Separation. By Mark Sidwell. ©1998. BJU Press. Reproduction prohibited. This work is available for purchase at the Bob Jones University Campus Store (phone: 1-800-252-1927; web address: www.bju.edu/store.)

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