What is a Pentecostal?: On PAOC Pentecostal Identity

What makes a Pentecostal a Pentecostal? …particularly a PAOC Pentecostal.

In the earliest days of the Pentecostal movement in Canada, most of the people attending a Pentecostal church would have spoken in tongues. In fact, the reason that many Christians joined a Pentecostal church was that they were no longer welcome in their previous churches because they spoke in tongues.

Can “tongues” define Pentecostal identity?

There is no doubt that “tongues” has been something that has marked Pentecostalism as a distinct movement. However, this is probably less so the case today, at least in North America. On average, only 5-35% of people in Pentecostal churches today speak in tongues.[1] This statistic is not specific to the PAOC, but I imagine it would apply here as well.

On top of this, many have observed that Pentecostal churches today are not that distinguishable from other evangelical churches. For example, many evangelical churches are open to experiencing the Spirit and practicing the Spiritual gifts. 

What sets Pentecostals apart?

While I have sensed some Pentecostals despair at the fact that Pentecostals don’t seem to be as unique and distinct today when compared to other evangelicals, I’m not sure it is a reason to worry, especially since to some extent this is because the Pentecostal movement has been “successful” it that is has resulted in somewhat of a pentecostalization of many evangelical churches. (There has, likewise, no doubt been an evangelicalization of Pentecostal churches.)

Regardless, Pentecostal identity does not have to come solely from what makes us distinct from others. Besides, I would like to think that PAOC Pentecostals have more in common with other evangelicals than we have that sets us apart from them.

A few years ago a couple of PAOC pastors surveyed PAOC pastors and asked them (among other things), “what phrases would best describe the current emphasis in your church?” The top four answers were 1) strong biblical teaching, 2) investing in missions, 3) building community, and 4) passionate worship.[2] None of these things are uniquely Pentecostal, but they are all things that I would like to think are integral to Pentecostal identity.

Is there anything distinct about the PAOC?

Even though PAOC Pentecostal identity doesn’t have to be defined solely by what sets the PAOC apart from other denominations, there are still some things, nevertheless, that are unique about the PAOC.

For example, with respect to worship, 66.7% of PAOC churches regularly include altar calls or invitations to receive Christ in their worship services, compared to only 18.5% of churches in other evangelical denominations in Canada. Furthermore, while only 1.5% of evangelical churches regularly experience public speaking in tongues, 35.8% of PAOC churches regularly experience this.[3] So, perhaps speaking in tongues is still something that is indicative of PAOC identity, even if it isn’t as prominent as it once was.

[1] David Barrett, “The Worldwide Holy Spirit Renewal,” in The Century of the Holy Spirit: 100 Years of Pentecostal and Charismatic Renewal, 1902-2001, edited by Vinson Synan (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2001), 395.

[2] The full results of the survey are available here. See also the explanation of the survey in a paper here.

[3] Sam Reimer, “Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada’s Congregations: Vitality, Diversity, Identity and Equity,”  Canadian Journal of Pentecostal-Charismatic Christianity 3 (2012): 59-60 (available here).

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4 thoughts on “What is a Pentecostal?: On PAOC Pentecostal Identity

  1. Thanks Andrew . . . this is helpful. I was just teaching about the Pentecostal movement today as we discussed pneumatology in theological foundations. A question: are those older Pentecostal distinctives still required for pastors in the PAOC?

  2. Thanks for this post. I’m a former PAOC, having left partially because I couldn’t affirm initial evidence of tongues. But I have definitely notice a shift in many PAOC churches toward generic evangelical. And I agree that the good news is that many evangelicals have become more pentecostal.