At its inception and for the first 40 years of its existence, Pentecostalism was a pacifist movement preaching non-violence and non-retaliation. At the end of the Second World War, the movement changed its stance, in many instances without officially taking a decision at formal platforms, because of the changes that occurred when its members became socially and economically mobile and the movement strove to be accepted in society. The article argues that the changes were, however, essentially because of a change in its hermeneutical viewpoint that introduced a new climate within the movement, accompanied by various changes in viewpoint and practice. After the 1970s, several theologians within the Pentecostal movement formulated a hermeneutics that concurred to a large degree with the way early Pentecostals viewed and interpreted the Bible. This new hermeneutics allows Pentecostals to rethink their non-pacifist stance and the article argues the case for such a reconsideration.Intradisciplinary and/or interdisciplinary implications: While the classical Pentecostal movement supported pacifism for the first 30 years of its existence, it changed its stance at the end of the Second World War because of new hermeneutical choices. Recent changes in hermeneutical viewpoint within (a part of) the movement require that the ethical issue of pacifism be rethought if it does not want its witness about Jesus Christ as the source of peace to be compromised.
On a foggy evening in the spring of 1906, nine days before the San Francisco earthquake, several black saints gathered in a small house in Los Angeles to seek the baptism in the Holy Spirit. Before the night was over, a frightened child ran from the house to tell a neighbor that the people inside were singing and shouting in strange languages.Several days later the group moved to an abandoned warehouse on Azusa Street in a run-down section of the city. Soon they were discovered by a Los Angeles Times reporter. The “night is made hideous … by the howlings of the worshippers,” he wrote. “The devotees of the weird doctrine practice the most fanatical rites, preach the wildest theories and work themselves into a state of mad excitement.”
The twenty-fourth of September 1905 started as a typical Sunday in Zion City, Illinois. Promptly at 2:00 P.M. John Alexander Dowie ascended the platform of Shiloh Tabernacle, robed in the brightly embroidered garments of an Old Testament High Priest. He was acknowledged by the seven thousand souls who sat before him as the Messenger of the Covenant, the third and final incarnation of the prophet Elijah, and the General Overseer and First Apostle of the Christian Catholic Apostolic Church in Zion. The 6,600 acres of farms, homes, factories, and businesses surrounding the tabernacle were exclusively his. And for all practical purposes, so were the people. One contemporary journalist judged that Dowie had come to possess the “most autocratic power it is possible to wield in this republic,” while another concluded that “no man… of our time has ever secured anything like the personal following he has.” Near the end of the five hour service the prophet changed into his white expiation robes and, as he had done on countless Sundays in the past, prepared to bless and distribute the Holy Sacraments. But this time, in the semi-darkness of the early evening, he seemed to stagger and slump to the floor. The people soon learned that Dowie had suffered a crippling stroke. They also soon knew that their effort to build a biblical Zion on the “sky-skirted prairie” north of Chicago was in shambles.
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