I hope you enjoy this post. It is a part of a bigger project I am working on about the pacifism of the early pentecostal movement, it’s heritage, it’s hay day, and it’s decline. (Please comment)

The early days of the Pentecostal tradition were years of constant reformation. Many issues separated them from their Holiness foundations, resulting in splintered divisions within the movement itself. Amid the most prominent points of controversy in the early Pentecostal movement, such as sanctification, the nature of God, and the nature of the church, another salient theme was the issue of pacifism. Despite their rhetorically militant posture concerning spiritual matters, Pentecostals widely maintained a pacific attitude towards physical violence.[1] Some Pentecostals would not even participate in civil government due to the corrupt and violent nature of the kingdoms of this world.[2] The Pentecostals enjoyed this unifying theme against war and violence until about 1914 when the realities of a world at war in WWI caused them to rethink their cultural identity, resulting in the decline of Pentecostal Pacifism and the alteration of other core beliefs and methods.[3]

            The roots of the pacific ethic of early Pentecostals were entangled with many of the beliefs that characterized the movement as a whole. Pentecostal’s Biblicist hermeneutic allowed them to take antiviolence verses such as Matt 5:39, 44, and John 18:34, literally. The populist notion that WWI was a “rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight” was congruent with the Pentecostals disposition to side with the poor over the rich and contributed to their pacific stance.[4] The aspect of their theology that made their particular expression of pacifism unique was undoubtedly eschatological. The Pentecostal understanding of Dispensationalism allowed them to remain detached and interpret the global political scene as a “grand cosmic metaphor,” rather than as historical events that would ultimately affect them.[5]

Their Pacifism provided a lens by which Pentecostals could view the world, a way of understanding the turbulent times in which they lived. It also provided a hope that there was a better life for them if they would not conform to the ways of the world. Ultimately the mark that Pacifism has left on the Pentecostal movement is evident today, especially amongst the groups of Pentecostals who resist cultural conformity.[6] Rooted firmly in the Holiness movement and lightly in the Reformed Evangelical tradition Pentecostals drew on a literalist hermeneutic and dispensational eschatology to maintain their strong commitment to nonviolence; Pentecostals remained largely pacifist until the problems presented by WWI and eventually WWII proved overbearing and forced them to soften their stance against war.

Definitions: Pacifism- an attitude or policy of nonresistance, Pacific -having to do with pacifism, Hermeneutic- method of interpreting scripture, Populist- a political party claiming to represent the common people, Eschatological- having to do with the “end-times,”

[1] R.G. Robins, Pentecostalism in America 38-40

[2] A.J. Tomlinson, Answering the Call of God, (Cleveland, TN: White Wing Publishing House, ca. 1913). 9-10

[3] Jay Beaman, “Pentecostal Pacifism: The Origin, Development, And Rejection of Pacific Belief Among Pentecostals” (master’s thesis, Northern American Baptist Seminary, 1982), 2.

[4] R.G. Robins, Pentecostalism in America, 52

[5] Ibid

[6] Jay Beaman, Pentecostal Pacifism, 1

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