Pentecostalism is the fastest growing religion in the world. This is an excellent review of and critical reflection upon one aspect of that worldwide phenomenon: the transition of Modern Canadian Pentecostalism from a time of great growth to its transformation into an institution with influence outside its boundaries yet diminishing in growth and enthusiasm. The text offers a description of what happens in three sections: Origins and Development; Aspects of Canadian Pentecostal Experience; Institutionalization and Globalization. As with most religions in Canada that take their origins outside the nation, Canadian Pentecostalism reflects the unique culture that gave it birth and sustains it.
The touchstone of discussions concerning contemporary, or what some call classic, Pentecostalism is the continuous Azusa Street revival led by Charles Parham in Los Angeles between 1906 and 1909. Azusa Street is accepted as the beginning of reform, renewal, and restoration of modern Christianity even though there were others revivals with the same doctrinal themes and esoteric phenomena previous to it. Azusa Street and its Baptism of the Spirit marked by speaking in tongues and accompanying spirit-gifts is the required ritual for inclusion into contemporary Pentecostalism. It is Azusa too with its vision of reform in imitation of the apostolic church as described in Acts that marks how to read the Christian Scriptures. Finally it is Azusa that claims that the end of the world is near and these are the signs that tell us it is so. When looking at a church that claims to be Christian one should, according to those in the tradition of Azusa, see a community imitative of the church of the apostles found in Acts with all its accompanying signs and wonders. The Azusa revival, then, acts as the first marker of Canadian Pentecostalism according to this text. The development of Pentecostalism from movement to institutionalization goes through three phrases with the acceptance of Azusa as the marker of its beginning.
The first phase acknowledges the local Hebden Mission in Toronto as Pentecostal even though it began before Azusa. Yet it was the preaching of those linked to Azusa that gave Pentecostalism its national strength and numbers. Charismatic renewal, the second phase of Pentecostalism in Canada, was both independent of Azusa and arose among the Mainline churches of Canada (Roman Catholic, Anglican, United). Most of these Christians experiencing the baptism in the Spirit and accompanying wonders stayed in their churches. The third phase is the joining of the first phase with Conservative Evangelical Christianity.
Of course none of these types of Pentecostalism were acceptable to the majority of Christians in Canada. Contrary to the United States, Evangelical Christianity represents only three percent of the population. Institutional Pentecostalism represents even less.
Representing such a small part of the population is reflected in two of Canadian Pentecostalism’s major challenges: The increase of women in leadership roles in the culture and the need to care for the by- products of Capitalism – the poor and the environment. For readers in the U.S., do not forget the presence of a political party, NDP (now the official opposition in Parliament) for governmental solutions to these issues. As Pentecostalism became institutionalized and associated with the individualism of conservative Evangelicalism, it increasingly became marginal to both the Canadian majority and its own roots.
Women played a major part of spirit filled fellowships throughout Canadian history. They also played a significant role in those communities in the Azusa lineage – Aimee McPherson was not a wall flower! The poor and the marginalized were the Pentecostal movement when it began. Yet as institutionalization set in so did the influence of Conservative Evangelicalism. The fascinating bureaucratic solutions to these issues are highlighted and discussed in the second section of the book.
Two churches play a significant role in discussions about the entry of Pentecostalism into Conservative Evangelicalism and its globalization. These are The Vineyard Church in Vancouver and The Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship. They are significant because they also mirror the ebb and flow of Canadian Pentecostalism in general. The fact of the matter is that while Pentecostalism is the quickest growing religion in the world, it is decreasing in membership in Canada. What has caused the decrease? The authors do not delve into this topic in any depth.
There is such overwhelming and detailed scholarship on issues like the growth of bible schools and clergy training, the growth and trials of the PAOC (Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada), and the two above mentioned churches that one wonders why the decrease in membership was not given more space. Certainly there are scholars such as Reginald Bibby who have developed tested theories as to why this is happening. This single lacuna leads to something that kept nagging me throughout my reading: a feeling of incompleteness about the text. Whether it was the diverse way that endnotes were used (e.g. some having no page references), the lack of key terms in the index (Vineyard is not there; Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship has multiple references), the limited discussion of Pentecostalism outside the POAC, or never mentioning the diverse developments of revival and Pentecostalism in the Atlantic Provinces, especially Newfoundland. What this feeling of incompleteness indicates I am not sure. Perhaps it is indicative of a need for another book. Certainly finishing this one does leave one thirsty for more.