PART 3 – Charles Burks


The Protestant Reformation was the movement that responded to the abuses of the Roman Catholic Church in the 1500s, and has continued to this day as the root of many denominations, such as the Presbyterians, Methodists, Lutherans, and many Baptists. It is often assumed there are two basic places people belong to in Christendom – either with the Catholics/Orthodoxs, or with the Protestants. And some people might assume that we as Pentecostals also identify as Protestants. 


But, should we claim that movement as our heritage?  


As I looked into it, in spite of its affinity for God’s Word, I had to conclude that the Protestant Reformation is not our heritage as Pentecostals. Rather, our roots before the turn of the 20th century look back to a distinct group of independent, Bible-believing Christians who have always existed somewhere since the first century – and who were persecuted by both the Catholics and Protestants.


God has always had a remnant of believers who would not compromise their faith when they knew the Bible was not being followed by the religion of their day. By the time of Luther, these people were generally known as “Anabaptists” – a derogatory term given by Catholics who said these non-conformists were wrongly baptizing Christians again.


Many of us grew up in churches that sprinkled us with water as infants. Baptizing or “christening” us (making us little Christians) consisted of putting water on our head, saying some prayers over us, and joining us to the local church because of our family’s wishes. Original sin was said to be removed by that sprinkling experience as a baby, but naturally the baby doesn’t know what’s going on. And the evidence in so many of our lives was that nothing spiritually beneficial came out of that ceremony. 


As we grew up, we were revealed to be just as lost as those around us who were never baptized as infants. Clearly, a reformation is needed in so many areas of Christian practice, including baptism, but both Catholics and most Protestants retain the practice of infant baptism to this day.


The scriptural root of the word “baptize” doesn’t mean to sprinkle. It means to immerse. Knowing that, the “Anabaptist” believers would say, “If you’ve given your heart to the Lord, if you want to follow Jesus wholeheartedly and repent of your sins, you need to be baptized by immersion as a repentant believer.” Now for us today, that’s the Biblical thing to do. But for believers 500 or more years ago, it could mean the death penalty for their obedience to scripture. 


Sadly, it wasn’t just the Catholics that persecuted Anabaptists for re-baptizing people in 16th century Europe. It was even Protestants who expressed the sentiment, “We teach infant baptism in our churches. And if you’re saying our christening wasn’t good enough – if you’re saying our people aren’t Christians by being sprinkled as babies – we’re coming after you!” And they didn’t just want to attack their opponents with words; they literally supported the imprisonment of many of these Christians. 


If we look at the roots of the Pentecostal movement, it’s always been a movement that has believed in baptism by immersion, reserved for repentant believers. That is one of the reasons why I believe our roots are not in the Protestant Reformation. 


There are other reasons too. Now please understand: I’m not downplaying the significance of Luther, Calvin, and other leading Reformers.  These men undoubtedly risked their lives to do some remarkable things that paved the way for much good. But they expressed a belief in God’s sovereignty that, I believe, goes beyond what the Bible would teach. In other words, “sovereignty” to them meant meticulous determinism. It meant God is the cause of every single thing that happens in the universe. He’s not just the source of it, but he’s the cause of it. Everything happens in accordance with His good pleasure and predetermined will.


Now at first, acknowledging that God has total control and is sovereignly determining all things seems to be an honorable position. But when we begin to ask tough questions, good answers are hard to find. For instance, is God the author of sin? Or, did God choose my lost loved ones to rebel against him? Does God desire the vast majority of humanity to not believe in him and die rejecting his offer of salvation – and then go to hell for all eternity? Is that his good pleasure? Is that what He predestined for most people, whom He could have chosen for salvation?  If you’re a hard-core (“5-point”) Calvinist, you would have to conclude, “Yes”. 


The Lutherans took a softer approach than the Calvinists on God predestining all things that take place. But they were still of the mentality that man is born unable to turn to God and believe. Luther taught that fallen man doesn’t have a free will, and man cannot override the will of God.  Yet there are scriptures in the Bible that clearly speak of resisting, grieving, and quenching the Holy Spirit, which is tantamount to resisting God and His will. 


So many scriptures speak of God crying out to his people to repent, and we read that Jesus wept over Jerusalem saying, “How long I wanted to gather your children to me, but you were not willing” (Mt. 23:37).  What is the point of God calling to men to turn to Him if, in fact, they are so depraved that they can never respond? Yet most of the Reformers rejected the idea that man could actually heed the call of God to repent and trust in Jesus without first being pre-selected by God to believe.


In contrast, Roman Catholics did not teach that kind of sovereign micro-management.  They believed man has the ability to submit to God or reject him. They also believed in the Trinity and in the bodily resurrection of Jesus.  Not everything taught by Catholics are positions that we as Pentecostals would reject.


In this case, is it not a much higher view of God to believe that as sovereign, he chose to give man a free will so that he would be responsible for his life? After all, human “responsibility” means we have the ability to respond. How can a just God hold someone responsible on the Day of Judgment, if that person had no capacity to believe without God first arbitrarily saving him (as many Reformers taught)? The scriptures teach that WE DO have the ability to acknowledge our need for a Savior, and WE CAN cry out to be saved. Jesus has already made provision for whosoever will turn to be forgiven – if we simply believe the gospel. God will justly hold us accountable for how we respond to the light we’ve been given.


So, this is a second major area where Pentecostalism has distinct roots from both the Protestant Reformers and the Catholics. The early Pentecostals were non-Calvinists. They largely came out of Methodist, Holiness, and non-Reformed Baptist church groups. And, despite the recent resurgence of neo-Calvinism, these doctrines have failed to gain a stronghold in most Pentecostal and Spirit-filled groups.  


Next time, we will look at a third major area that clearly distinguishes our Pentecostal heritage from both Protestants and Catholics.  I hope that by reading through this series, you will come to understand some of the reasons why Spirit-filled believers in the early 1900s were rejected by the traditional denominations, and why God raised up a distinct stream of Christian practice that has literally covered the earth with the power of the Holy Spirit in the last 120 years.



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