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What is the Difference Between the Classical Pentecostals and the Charismatics in the UK? (Pt 1)


aaa1Before continuing further with the history of Pentecostal truth in the nineteenth century up to the present day, I digress on the basis of being asked three times in recent days, in the church where God has led me to, “What is the difference between a Pentecostal and a Charismatic?” and “Is there any difference at all between Pentecostals and Charismatics?”  I cannot answer in one line.  The two movements are completely different. I need two papers.  Today I will begin to explain why.  The next time I write I will complete my statement with a list of practical differences between the two movements.


Many Christians use the terms Pentecostal and Charismatic interchangeably. They are terribly wrong. I know there is an organisation in the United States called the PCCNA or “The Pentecostal and Charismatic Churches of North America” but all I can surmise is that the significance of the terms in the States must be different when they are used here in the UK. For instance I am aware that Kenneth Copeland is referred to as one of the leading charismatics in the USA. Here in the UK, love him or hate him, there is no way that this particular man of God could be referred to as one of the charismatics.


It is an easy error to make, and on the surface they look like identical twins, but they certainly are not. They might worship in the same manner, and these days even sing the same songs. It must also be noted that most of the contemporary new worship songs emanate from the charismatic quarter. But good, sound Christian worship songs have been sung across all denominations for centuries. They may both teach the fact of the baptism in the Spirit, prayer for sick people and cast out demons – but there is  a vast difference once a person enquires beyond those prime requirements of similarity.


As the parameters of what is referred to as the Charismatic movement expands (and in that respect it has always been a moving animal) there is also an expanding discrepancy between what defines a charismatic and what differentiates one from an authentic “Pentecostal.”


The Pentecostals burst upon the planet around the calendar date of 1900. There were lots of things that led up to that bursting. After fifty or sixty years of the Pentecostals teaching the relevancy of the Holy Spirit, and especially the Baptism in the Holy Spirit, the church in general began to get the message, The “Restorationist,” “House Church,” “Neo-pentecostal,” “Charismatic” movement (They are all epithet’s that have been used for the same people at various points of time over the last half century) walked out of mainstream denominations and thus started the new “streams.” It was several years before people within the traditional denominations started to be baptised in the Holy Spirit and saw no need to leave and join the charismatics or the Pentecostals. And so a second kind of Charismatic renewal took place where Baptists, Methodists, Anglicans and everyother denomination in mainstream Christianity were in receipt of members receiving their own personal Baptism in the Holy Spirit who chose to stay where they were. So we now have churches that should be referred to as Charismatic Baptists,  Charismatic Methodists, Anglicans and everything else. In fact, for what seems to me like the majority of the body of Christ, nobody seems to give to hoots about the struggle that precipitated the Pentecostal denominations being accepted into mainstream Christianity a hundred years ago, or even the assertiveness of the Charismatic streams that appeared half a century ago and had the appearance of straightening a lot of things out in issues to do with the manifestation of the church in the world. The dust has truly settled. We live in a generation that is wondering what on earth all the fuss was about!


312 Asuza Street, Los Angeles. Photo taken circa 1920.

But nothing has changed really. We still have men of God and movements that are stretching the borders of where the life of faith in the power of the Holy Spirit can lead them, and, just as Charles Parham and William Seymour discovered, there is always the minority that love the new pioneers while the majority of those that live in the plains  hate them and demonise them for all they are worth. God have mercy on us all.


Getting back to the beginning of our monologue today . . .


In the UK the Pentecostal movement vaguely got their act together in the early 1900’s. It was a varied group of men that were hungry for God, and set alight once they received their baptism in the Holy Spirit. They were all from different denominations and different types of orthodox protestant churches.  They gave their respective groups the titles that have become the denominations that we know today.


The Charismatic movement did not appear until somewhere around the late 1950’s and into the 1960’s. There is a huge difference between the intrinsic nature of these two groups.  On paper, their tenets of the faith may seem similar, but it is not the criteria from which to judge their overall similarities.


The major Pentecostal streams were quick to declare where they stood and became movements/denominations, whatever term one wishes to use, with “i’s” dotted and “t’s” crossed defining their differences. Perhaps if the “i’s” and the “t’s” were attended to a little later, there may have been less fragmentation among those early pioneers. Many men stayed independant believing that the “new thing” that God wanted to do with the Pentecostal move was being blunted by them quickly melding into nothing but a series of new denominations. Some believed “tongues” was the initial evidence of the baptism in the Holy Spirit having been received, some believed that it was tongues or prophecy.  On those grounds they separated. Brothers separated on theological issues like these that today are considered minimal, yet in those early days of fervency and revival mentality dots on “i’s” and crosses on “t’s” were considered major.  In the States, men like John G Lake and EW Kenyon stayed away from the new born Pentecostal movements simply because of the hurry that drove many to create new denominations.  Kenyon actually applied to join the AoG in the States but on after enquiry and deep discussion never pursued the application. Whichever side of that theological debate they stood, most of the leaders of those early days are hailed today as amongst the great saints of recent church history. We thank God for them. They came together shoulder to shoulder on the major issues of Pentecostal truth.


Old style advertising for Pentecostal Missions

As a generalisation, from what I understand of the history of Pentecost in Britain there are three mainstream Classical Pentecostal movements in the UK, Elim, Assemblies of God, and the Apostolic Church. There are many more, but numerically the former two are by far the largest. There are of course other Pentecostal denominations making inroads as with the New Testament Church of God, generally and wrongly  perceived as a West Indian black movement.


Elim Pentecostal Churches were birthed around 1915 and were initially known as being the churches that came out of the Elim Evangelistic Band’s efforts led by George Jeffreys, thus they were referred to as the Elim Pentecostal Churches. The deed poll that actually recognised Elim as a denominational force was not actually registered until April 1934 however.


The Assemblies of God came into being in 1924. The Apostolic Church which claims to have had its conception in the 1904-5 welsh revival came into reality as a denomination round about 1916 when the churches which comprised what is now known as the Apostolic Church, broke away from what was known then as the Apostolic Faith Church. The Apostolic Church was originally headquartered in Pen-y-groes, South Wales while the Apostolic Faith Church was led from Bournemouth. Those early 1900’s were heady days. Pentecostal people were finding their feet and their group  and denominational identity. They were not wanted in the majority of churches, and were widely persecuted and hailed as heretics by their erstwhile church brothers and sisters in the traditional denominations.


Pentecostals generally insisted that what had happened to them, and what they were teaching was truths that were evident from Acts 2 onwards. This is still the true Pentecostal birthmark. The biblical tap root of Acts chapter 2 is the source of all Pentecostal tenacity. They were here to stay and many authors seem to believe that until half way through the 1950’s Pentecostals were understood to be a minority sect and nothing to do with mainstream Christianity. aaa9


However, beginning in the late 50’s and early 60’s there was a groundswell of interest and hunger within the traditional denominations concerning the Biblical concept of “spiritual gifts,” including “speaking in tongues.”  I choose to believe from all my study that even though many church leaders tended to look down on the Pentecostals they were secretly intently listening to what they preached. Interest in the Baptism of the Holy Spirit in the 60’s was high in deepest traditional British churches. As the Greek word for gifts is “Charismata” so the term “Charismatic Renewal within the church” was used quite widely. My limited firsthand experience of this renewal leads me to say that it actually started within the ranks of the Church of England.  Wikipedia actually refers to him as one of the charismatic leaders from the 60’s through to the 80’s.  He was actually very brave within the Anglican set up of those days. I heard him speak several times, and even as an immature new Pentecostal convert he taught me nothing that I hadn’t already heard from my died in the wool Pentecostal pastor.  From Harper It trickled down to the wider shop floor of Protestantism. Many church leaders were loathed to leave their traditional scenario’s and so resisted those with charismatic interests. So the cycle was completed when they that thought their spiritual convictions were not being catered for walked out to form their own groups. The Charismatic “engagement” was afoot.


312 Asuza Stree again

The bits that Harper added onto his message were considerable however. I remember him questioning how all Christian denominations “do church.” Structures within churches, the five fold ministry gifts of Ephesians 4, and even team ministry were several of his issues that he included in his “Charismatic Renewal Manifesto.” I have no notes or books to confirm what I say here, only a memory of him speaking in Westminster Central Hall London in the late sixties. I was guilty of ignoring that kind of perspective – to “advanced” for my early days..


The entire proceedings of the Holy Spirit were of course totally in His divine order, but they left many pastor’s and churches behind wondering in their long maintained status quo what the fuss was all about. There was even (and there still is) a very sizeable Catholic Charismatic swathe. There are millions still who haven’t a clue what to do with this phenomena. But – looking into that story is for another time.


Rather than align themselves with the Pentecostal groups which had been around for fifty years or more, the new Charismatics left their traditional denominations on a quest to restore all things biblical to the church.  It was widely referred to, for a short period, as the “Restorationist movement”.  The emphasis was on the form and structure of the church rather than the personal experience of the Baptism in the Holy Spirit of individual believers. (If any reader can find a copy, “Restoring the Kingdom” by Andrew Walker is a must to read. I believe it is still in print after several reprints, It is subtitles as “The Radical Christianity of the House Church Movement.” It’s a very juicy read.).

aaa6 william Seymour 46837_256

William Seymour. The man pastoring 312 Asuza street at the Apostolic Faith Church when the fire fell.

It was all change within all Christian denominations and movements. It was glorious and wonderful order growing out of chaos. I think the majority of Christians still chose to ignore what was going on, but those who were hungry for more of God had all sorts of issues being highlighted, questioned and thoroughly debated. My personal memories of Christianity in the seventies, eighties and nineties are rich and varied.


Today, the charismatics are generally of two general moulds. There are the charismatic streams. These are the movements, streams, or fellowships of churches, whatever frame of reference each group chose to refer to themselves as, who left the mainstream denominations and felt the Classic Pentecostalism was not compatible to their tenets of faith.  At the beginning of their journey, the Pentecostals were too “old school”  for the charismatic “Restorationist” philosophies. This initial mould is what became a cluster of Streams (that was the new word which kept people safely distant from thoughts of new denominations). They were given names such as New Frontiers, Pioneer, Salt and Light, Grape Vine, and others. To the outside Christian World they were all identical. At first they were known as “Restorationists,” then the “House church.” There were some that then referred to them as the “Neo-Pentecostals” (as opposed to the Classical Pentecostals), and finally they were labelled the “Charismatics.” In those early days, the leaders of some of these movements that I met refused to refer to themselves by any of these epithets. That latter label seems to have stuck howver. Later when the Pentecostal experience broke out in the grass root membership of Methodists, Anglicans, Baptists, and all the main historical denominations people less and less felt the need  or desire to leave their denominational roots.  We have thankfully arrived at the point of church development in the UK where whatever is written on the church signage is absolutely no indication of what goes on behind its doors. aaa6


The whys and wherefores of their difference is the point of this and the next paper.


I am aware that both movements stand for total commitment to Christ and to grow in the grace of God through the impetus of the Holy Spirit and the use of the gifts of the Spirit in the Christian life.  In this they are the same. The differences are subtle, and very much brought about through the experiences and decisions made in the days of the birth of both movements. Next time I shall bullet point several practical and very noticeable results of the differences between Pentecostals and Charismatics.



  1. Fascinating article Keith. Fascinating also to see the parallels of things that happen here in the States.

  2. Linda says:

    I too was birthed in a Pentecostal church (Canada) and I thought for a long time all churches were filled with believers. When I came back to England what I found truly distressed me.

    I have been in an Elim church and they are not big on expository scripture or dealing with sin, and are in error. Having said that they were the best mottley group of people and we all helped each other. Sadly they are just a handful of people now and follow Elim rather than scripture. I am very saddened by the state of the churches and the lack of the baptism of the Spirit.

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