Pentecostalism in Australia

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Inside Hillsong Church, AOG/ACC Church

Pentecostalism is a renewal movement within Protestant Christianity that places special emphasis on a direct personal experience of God through baptism with the Holy Spirit. It emerged from 19th century precursors (such as the Holiness movement, the Higher Life movement, revivalism, the divine healing movement, and the like)[1] between 1870 and 1910, taking denominational form from c. 1927. From the early 1930s, pentecostal denominations multiplied, and there are now several dozen, the largest of which relate to one another through conferences and organizations such as the Australian Pentecostal Ministers Fellowship. The Australian Christian Churches, formerly known as the Australian Assemblies of God, is the oldest and longest lasting Pentecostal organization in Australia. The AOG/ACC is also the largest Pentecostal organization in Australia with over 300,000 members in 2018.[2] Until 2018, Hillsong Church was one of 10 megachurches in Australia associated with the ACC that have at least 2,000 members weekly.[3] According to the church, over 100,000 people attend services each week at the church or one of its 80 affiliated churches located worldwide (around 40,000 in Australia).[4]

Scholars in recent years, such as Sam Hey, have noted the increase in Pentecostal membership began increasing in the 1970s with an increase in the 'youth generation.'[2]

Australian Pentecostal denominationalism began in the early 20th century under the leadership of Sarah Jane Lancaster.[5] Pentecostal/ Charismatic movements, on the other hand, had a much longer history. The atmosphere was laid with Australia's colonization under the British Empire in the 18th century, its tradition of immigration, and non-class based society. Sarah Jane Lancaster set up the first church called Good News Hall, and then merged with other burgeoning Pentecostal churches under the name Apostolic Faith Mission of Australia.[6] They experienced conflict and debate over Oneness theology, leading to the schismatic foundation of new denominations. In 1937, the Assemblies of God in Australia was formed from elements of the Apostolic Faith Mission, the Queensland pentecostal churches which emerged from the 1924 Macknade revival (federated in 1929 as the Queensland Assemblies of God),[7] and A.C. Valdez's Pentecostal Church of Australia.[5][8] The Assemblies of God became known as Australian Christian Churches in 2007.

Early history[edit]

The creation of Australia as a prison colony for Great Britain caused the members of the colony early on to adapt to a non-class based system. The primary religion was Anglican, however the local people rejected Anglican authority on the grounds of their non-class based system. It was in this "free church" context that other religious traditions such as Catholicism and Methodism found adherents.[5] The Catholic Apostolic Churches in Australia, which emerged under Edward Irving from a confluence of Scots revivalism and Spanish millennialism, maintained charismatic practice from 1853 through until the end of the 19th century, and significantly influenced the global healing movement.[9] News of revivals happening worldwide reached Australia in the mid-19th century and similar stirrings began in Australia, particularly within Methodist circles of influence. Barry Chant identifies from 1870 a group of Methodist 'Sounders', led by Joseph Marshall in rural Victoria, among whom glossolalic practice was directly connected via family links to the early pentecostal movement. These trends contributed to a rise in the public practice of divine healing in similar areas, by people such as James Moore Hickson.[10] It was with this backdrop that Sarah Jane Lancaster, the founder of the first Pentecostal church in Australia, practiced Methodism and began to learn about spiritual healing and related gifts of the Holy Spirit. She was introduced to Pentecostalism when she requested a pamphlet called "Back to Pentecost" from leadership in England. This pamphlet claimed that God had never revoked the gifts of the Holy Spirit, so she prayed for these gifts to come upon her.[5] She was finally baptized in the Holy Spirit in 1908.[5]

Apostolic Faith Mission of Australia[edit]

In 1909 Sarah Lancaster opened Good News Hall, the first Pentecostal church in Australia.[6] After the opening of the church, Sarah Lancaster began a series of preachings around the country to spread the message of Pentecostalism. Many accepted her message and created Pentecostal churches of their own, but did not formally unite under Lancaster's church until 1926 when a South African pastor named Fredrick Van Eyck recommended uniting under the title Apostolic Faith Mission of Australia (AFM).[5][6] The AMF had problems from the start because the anti-doctrinal approach and the emphasis on personal interpretation led to disunity.[5]

Reorganization of Denominations[edit]

In the same year, the Pentecostal Church of Australia was formed under the leadership of A.C. Valdez, an American convert from the Azusa Street Revival that had taken place in Los Angeles.[8] With growing tensions within the AFM, some of the churches broke off and renamed themselves the Assemblies of God Queensland.[5] In 1937, the Assemblies of God Queensland and the Pentecostal Church of Australia merged under the title Assemblies of God in Australia.[6] Though the AOG adopted the name "Australian Christian Churches" in 2007, this group AOG/ACC has since been the largest Pentecostal denomination in Australia.[11]

Pentecostalism in Australia Today[edit]

Though other religions dominate Australia's population today ( including from the top Catholicism, Anglicanism, Uniting Church and Presbyterian/Reformed) studies show that the number of proportional adherents of these traditions have all dropped. Conversely, the proportional number of adherents for Pentecostalism rose between the years 1991 and 2001.[11] Adherence to Pentecostalism increased from nearly 220,000 in 2006 and 238,000 in 2011 to 260,500 in 2016.[12] Including independent charismatic churches, in 2018 Pentecostal churches on any given Sunday in Australia represent approximately half of all active Protestants. The average age of a pentecostal congregation is 25.[2]

In 2007, the Assemblies of God changed its name to "Australian Christian Churches", under the leadership of Brian Houston. This change occurred in order to be less limiting in name recognition and to increase participation.[3] Until 2018, the largest church associated with the AOG/ACC in Australia was the popular Hillsong church, founded in 1983 by husband and wife Brian and Bobbie Houston.[11] The Hillsong megachurch boasts (within Australia) more than 40,000 members every week and has over 30 affiliated congregations in Sydney.[11] Hillsong Church was one of 10 megachurches in Australia associated with the ACC that have at least 2,000 members weekly.[3] Its growth internationally, and increasing focus on North America, led in September 2018 to Hillsong's withdrawal from the ACC, and formation as its own denomination.[13] While much attention has been paid to Hillsong and to the ACC, two other significant Australian international pentecostal networks centre on the C3 Global Network (founded by Phil Pringle and a number of others in 1980) and the INC network (founded by Clark Taylor in what is now called Citipointe Church in Brisbane).[14]

In 2018, Scott Morrison became Australia's first Pentecostal prime minister.[15]

Extreme fundamentalist pentecostalism[edit]

There are, in Australia, relatively few examples of the more extreme, American-style fundamentalist cult-like forms of pentecostalism. The counter marginal trend, represented most notably by the infamous Logos Foundation, led by Howard Carter in Toowoomba, Queensland, and later by 'manifest glory' movements such as Bethel Church, Redding [16] can be found in congregations such as the Range Christian Fellowship.

The Range Christian Fellowship in Blake Street Toowoomba, is known for exuberant worship services and the public manifestation of charismatic phenomena and manifestations that place it well outside of mainstream pentecostal church expression. It is possibly one of the prime Australian examples of churches associated with the New Apostolic Reformation, a fundamentalist pentecostal religious right wing movement which has been described by American journalist Forrest Wilder as, "Their beliefs can tend toward the bizarre. Some prophets even claim to have seen demons at public meetings. They’ve taken biblical literalism to an extreme".[17] It operates in a converted squash centre [18] and was established on November 9, 1997 [19] as a breakaway group from the Rangeville Uniting Church in Toowoomba over disagreements with the national leadership of the Uniting Church in Australia. These disagreements were predominantly around the ordination of homosexual people into ministry.[20] The Range Christian Fellowship's diverse origins resulted in a divergent mix of worship preferences, expectations and issues. The church initially met in a Seventh Day Adventist church hall before purchasing the property in Blake Street, leaving the congregation heavily indebted,[21] often close to bankruptcy,[22] and with a high turnover of congregants.[23] The congregation attributes their continued avoidance of financial collapse to God's blessing and regard this as a miracle.[24]

Whilst adhering to mainstream protestant Christian beliefs, the church supplements these beliefs with influences from the New Apostolic Reformation, Revivalism, Dominion theology, Kingdom Now theology, Spiritual Warfare Christianity and Five-fold ministry thinking. Scripture is interpreted literally, though selectively. Unusual manifestations attributed to the Holy Spirit or the presence of ‘the anointing’ include women and at times even men, moaning and retching as though experiencing child birth,[25] with some claiming to be having actual contractions of the womb (known as spiritual birthing).[26] Dramatic and apocalyptic predictions regarding the future were particularly evident during the time leading up to Y2K, when a number of prophecies were shared publicly, all of which were proven to be false by subsequent events. Attendees are given a high degree of freedom, influenced in the church's initial years by the promotion of Jim Rutz's publication, "The Open Church", resulting in broad tolerance of expressions of revelation, a 'word from the Lord' or prophecy.

At times, people within the fellowship claim to have seen visions in either dreams, whilst in a trance-like state during worship, or during moments of religious ecstasy, with these experiences frequently conveying a revelation or prophecy. Other occurrences have included people claiming to have been in an altered state of consciousness (referred to as ‘resting in the Lord’ and 'slain in the spirit' among other names), characterized by reduced external awareness and expanded interior mental and spiritual awareness, often accompanied by visions and emotional (and sometimes physical) euphoria. The church has hosted visits from various Christian leaders who claim to be modern day Apostles as well as many others who promote themselves as prophets or faith healers. Perhaps surprisingly, speaking in tongues, which is common in other Pentecostal churches, does occur but is not frequent nor is it promoted; and is rarely witnessed in public gatherings. Neo-charismatic elements rejected elsewhere in classical pentecostalism, such as the Prayer of Jabez prosperity doctrine, the Toronto Blessing (with its emphasis on strange, non-verbal expressions), George Otis' Spiritual Warfare, Brownsville Revival (Pensacola Outpouring), Morningstar Ministries, Lakeland Revival, and the Vineyard group of churches, have been influential. The church has always been known for vibrant and at times euphoric and ecstatic worship utilising music, song, dancing, flags and banners. Range Christian Fellowship is part of the church unity movement in Toowoomba, with other like-minded churches (mainstream traditional denominations have a separate ecumenical group).[27][28][29] This group, known as the Christian Leaders' Network, aspires to be a Christian right wing influence group within the city, at the centre of a hoped-for great revival during which they will 'take the city for the Lord'. The Range Christian Fellowship has thrown itself wholeheartedly into citywide events that are viewed as a foundation for stimulating revival, which have included Easterfest, "Christmas the Full Story",[30] and continuous 24-hour worship events.[31]

The church retains an impressive resilience inherited from their Uniting Church heritage, which has weathered it through difficult times. Their beliefs and actions which place them on the fringe of both mainstream and pentecostal Christianity are largely isolated to their Sunday gatherings or privately in their homes. Criticism of the church is regarded by some as a badge of honour, as it is viewed in terms of the expected persecution of the holy remnant of the true church in the last days. The church continues to be drawn to, and associate itself with fringe Pentecostal and fundamentalist movements, particularly those originating in North America, such as Doug Addison most recently.[32] Addison has become known for delivering prophecies through dreams and unconventionally through people's body tattoos, and mixes highly fundamentalist Christianity with elements of psychic spirituality.[33]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Hutchinson, Mark P. "Hutchinson, Healers: James William Wood and Colonial Religious Innovation". Retrieved 18 September 2018.
  2. ^ a b c Simmons, Amy (July 30, 2011). "The Rise of Pentecostalism". ABC News. Retrieved May 6, 2015.
  3. ^ a b c Hey, Sam (2013). Megachurches: Origins, Ministry and Prospects. Eugene: Wipf and Stock Publishers. p. 81.
  4. ^ "2017 Annual Report". Retrieved 21 May 2018.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h Clifton, Shane (2009). Pentecostal Churches in Transition: Analysing the Ecclesiology of the Assemblies of God in Australia. Netherlands: Koninlijke Brill.
  6. ^ a b c d Anderson, Allan Heaton (2014). An Introduction to Pentecostalism: Global Charismatic Christianity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  7. ^ "William John Enticknap, Sr, Australasian Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements". Retrieved 1 September 2018.
  8. ^ a b Espinosa, Gastón (2014). William J. Seymour and the Origins of Global Pentecostalism. Durham: Duke University Press.
  9. ^ Elliott, Peter (2018). "Elliott, Four Decades of Discreet Charismata". Journal of Religious History. 42: 72–83. doi:10.1111/1467-9809.12446.
  10. ^ "Hutchinson, James Moore Hickson, ADPCM". Retrieved 1 September 2018.
  11. ^ a b c d Connell, John (August 19, 2006). "Hillsong: A Megachurch in the Sydney Suburbs". Australian Geographer.
  12. ^ Hunt, Elle (2017-06-27). "Christianity on the wane in Australia, but Pentecostal church bucks trend". the Guardian. Retrieved 2018-08-16.
  13. ^ "Hillsong Becomes a Denomination". Retrieved 23 September 2018.
  14. ^ "Hey, God in the Suburbs". Retrieved 18 September 2018.
  15. ^ Hutchens, Gareth (2018-09-07). "'Darkness' coming if Scott Morrison not re-elected, Pentecostal leader claims". The Guardian.
  16. ^ |title=Riches and Wagner (eds), Cover Story: Inside the Popular, Controversial Bethel Church.
  17. ^ "Rick Perry's Army of God". 2011-08-03.
  18. ^ Hart, Timothy. "Church Discover". Retrieved 10 September 2016.
  19. ^ Small, R. (2004). A Delightful Inheritance (1st ed.). Wilsonton: R.Small. p. 293.
  20. ^ Small, R. (2004). A DelightfulInheritance (1st ed.). Wilsonton: R.Small. p. 287.
  21. ^ Small, R. (2004). A Delightful Inheritance (1st ed.). Wilsonton: R.Small. pp. 299–300.
  22. ^ Small, R (2004). A Delightful Inheritance (1st ed.). Wilsonton, Queensland: R.Small. p. 358. ISBN 978-1920855734.
  23. ^ Small, R. (2004). A Delightful Inheritance (1st ed.). Wilsonton: R.Small. p. 306.
  24. ^ Small, R. (2004). A Delightful Inheritance (1st ed.). Wilsonton: R.Small. p. 316.
  25. ^ "TRAVAIL AND APOSTOLIC ORDER - Vision International Ministries".
  26. ^, 4th paragraph
  27. ^ "Christian Leaders' Network". Facebook. Retrieved 17 January 2015.
  28. ^ "One City One Church One Heart". Toowoomba Christian Leaders' Network. Archived from the original on 14 February 2015. Retrieved 17 January 2015.
  29. ^ Christian Fellowship, The Range. "The Range Christian Fellowship". Facebook. Retrieved 17 January 2015.
  30. ^ Small, R. (2004). A Delightful Inheritance (1st ed.). Wilsonton: R.Small. p. 297.
  31. ^ Small, R. (2004). A Delightful Inheritance (1st ed.). Wilsonton: R.Small. p. 308.
  32. ^ "The Range Christian Fellowship".
  33. ^ "When psychology meets psychic -".