Pentecostal or Charismatic? What’s the Difference?

It seems to me that people use the terms “Charismatic” and “Pentecostal” interchangeably.  But they are very different movements in the Christian community.  Both people who are a part of these movements, and we who would label ourselves evangelical, should be aware of the differences as we talk together.

I am going to look at the Charismatic movement over 3 stages. There are lots of little steps along the way, but I want to introduce you to some of the key points.

Classic Pentecostalism

In the twentieth Century, classic Pentecostalism finds its roots in a revival that was lead by William J. Seymour. This is known as the Azusa Street Revival because the movement started in a small church in funnily enough in Azusa Street in Los Angeles. During a meeting on the 9th April, 1906 a number of members of the church experienced strange things such a miracles, speaking in tongues and ecstatic experiences.

This movement spread and developed around the USA and the rest of the world. The main emphasis of this movement is that Christians should have the same experience that the early disciples had at pentecost (Acts 2) and that that should be the norm for the Christian life or conversion.

“Pentecostalism: a renewal movement beginning in the 1900s which teaches that Christians need a second work of grace (the baptism of the Spirit) beyond regeneration to be holy and/or have the power for Christian service. Pentecostals, speaking in tongues provides initial evidence that the baptism of the Spirit has taken place. This movement has produced a number of present-day denominations.”1

Charismatic Movement

The charismatic movement is different to the pentecostal movement, though probably grew out of it. Rather than emphasising what happens at conversion, the charismatic movement emphasised the gifts of the Spirit in the life of the believer, especially in the church context. It is therefore not surprising that this was linked with the rise of lay ministry within the church starting around the 1960s.

The other difference with the Pentecostal movement is that the Charismatic movement did not tend to develop new denominations and churches, though that did happen, rather they would work within existing protestant and even Roman Catholic churches.

“Charismatic movement: Primarily refers to a movement within mainline churches and free churches beginning in the 1960s which maintains that the gifts of the Spirit spoken of in the New Testament are available for use by God’s people today.”2

The Third Wave

The main person associated with the Third wave of the Charismatic movement is John Wimber. Wimber was a part of the Vineyard movement of churches and also had associations what what is known as the “Church Growth Movement”3

The main emphasis here is that special works of the Spirit should be associated with evangelism. Hence it is also known as the “Signs and Wonders” movement. Other people associated with the this kind of movement are Benny Hinn and the Toronto Blessing.

“Third Wave: A renewal movement that begun in the 1980s. This movement, like the Pentecostal (the First Wave) and charismatic (the Second Wave) movements before it, affirms the gifs of the Holy Spirit are for today. But in addition, the Third Wave argues that evangelism ordinarily should be accompanied by “signs, wonders and miracles””4


There are a lot of similarities of the different movements above. All of them
looking to and expecting the work of the Spirit in the life of the believer. But here is a summary of the differences:

Date Started




Work of the Spirit in the experience of conversion to be like that of Acts 2



Work of the Spirit in the life of the believer in the all the gifts of the Spirit in the New Testament

Third Wave


Work of the Spirit in the experience of evangelism in signs and wonders.

My experience with many churches who were Pentecostal or Third Wave is that they are in their hearts, pragmatic. What they see in these movements are things that appear to work, at least for a while. So while a church or movement might well have been Pentecostal, these days it may well have moved on to something else that ‘works’ like pragmatic leadership structures or moving from emphasis on the work of the Spirit to the work of the Spirit in the church.

Questions for someone:

  • Do you need to have a ‘special’ experience of some kind to be Christian?
  • If you felt the Spirit telling you something that was contrary to the Bible what would you do?
  • Do you think gifting or need is how you decide how to serve in church.
  • Do you think God speaks through the Bible?



1 Cole, Graham A. He Who Gives Life. Foundations of Evangelical Theology. Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2007. p288.

2 Cole, Graham A. He Who Gives Life. Foundations of Evangelical Theology. Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2007. p286.

3 Though not all of the Church Growth Movement leaders would agree with Wimber’s doctrine of the Holy Spirit. But the key leader of that movement, C. Peter Wagner, did work closely with Wimber, authoring books together.

4 Cole, Graham A. He Who Gives Life. Foundations of Evangelical Theology. Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2007. p289.



  1. Hi Pete,
    Thanks for this I’ve wondered for quite a while about it. So with your last point concerning pentecostal and third wave churches moving to a more ‘pragmatic’ style seeing the work of the Spirit in the Church, is that a drift more towards the Charismatic style of things?

    Secondly when I google a church and check out their ‘What we Believe’ section, are there different phrases that are going to help me tell what church is what kind?



    • In your first question, my point was that I wonder if churches who have jumped on these movements have done so because they are ultimately pragmatic and are not really looking for the work of the Spirit but what ‘works’. HOWEVER, this is merely speculation for some cases and may not be a fair as a blanket statement.

      As to your second, I think that is complicated. I can’t really give you an answer on that at the moment, mainly because the movement is so fluid.


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