When I recently listened to a Podcast on the history of Pentecostalism in the United States, I couldn’t help but wonder how this global Christian manifestation fares in Germany. I have to admit, that while having a rather vague idea of what Pentecostalism means for the US, I did not know how far it spreads in the country I live in. I didn’t even know how to translate “Pentecostalism” to German. It’s “Pfingsbewegung”, in case you wonder.
The Descent of the Holy Spirit
Should you, like me, not be entirely sure what Pentecostalism actually is, let me briefly freshen up your knowledge. Pentecost refers to the descent of the Holy Spirit on to the early Christians as described in the New Testament of the Bible. In the portrayed incident, which happened on Pentecost, originally a Jewish holiday that is also celebrated in Christianity to this day (In Germany, we know it as Pfingsten.), the Holy Spirit bestowed some of God’s powers on to the twelve apostles. Now, at the dawn of the 20th century, a growing number of individual Christians and congregations in the USA seemed to have been praying for another descent of the Holy Spirit. Over time the expectation of a nearing second Pentecost grew stronger. In conclusion, Pentecostalism draws a direct line to the early Christian church and takes the Holy Spirit and godly empowerment quite literally.
When a Pentecostal congregation experienced phenomena that resembled the descriptions of the original events in Jerusalem, word traveled quickly and people believed that the second Pentecost had arrived. From this point on, the new church spread fast and new congregations popped up all over the globe. Only one year after the new church began to spread, the first quasi-Pentecostal service was held in northern Germany.
Christianity in Germany
Before we return to Pentecostalism in Germany, let me quickly describe the makeup of Christian religion in Germany in the early 20th century. Back then, roughly 60% of the German population were part of one of the several evangelical churches. The majority of the remaining 40% belonged to the Catholic Church, but there were also orthodox churches and other Christian manifestations. As Pentecostalism derives from Evangelicalism, it is important to say, that the Evangelical churches were not organized in a superordinate organization at the beginning of the 20th century.
The new Pentecostalism in Germany
Thus, the “new” movement did not find itself confronted with a united Christian body in Germany. One organization that opposed the spreading of Pentecostalism in Germany was the pietistic “Gemeinschaftsbewegung” (Community Movement), another quite powerful Evangelical church. It was highly skeptical of the spiritualistic features of Pentecostal services, which saw the congregation members being literally animated by the Holy Spirit. In an official statement, the Gemeinschaftsbewegung basically accused the Pentecostal churches of heresy. In the Third Reich, many Pentecostal churches and associations, some of which had been prohibited, joined together in larger organizations. This development continued after World War II. Although the Pentecostal churches are organized in an overarching body, in German law they do not count as one religious Organization, as e.g. the Catholic or the Evangelical Church. In Germany, singular Pentecostal congregations mostly call themselves “Freikirche” (Free Church), in order to clarify that they are not part of the German Evangelical Church. Theologically, the affiliation to the Pentecostal movement does not mean the different churches and associations cannot differ in their doctrines. In Germany it quite usual for women to become Pentecostal pastors. It is hard to estimate the actual number of Pentecostals in Germany. The larger umbrella organizations count between 3.500 and more than 50.000 members.