Pentecostalism encompasses a number of separate denominations. Most of those denominations are orthodox in that they adhere to the Essentials of the Christian Faith. Unfortunately, there are also a few that fall outside the pale of orthodoxy and are, therefore, heretical. As a non-theologian, I hope here to spotlight what some call the Pentecostal distinctives—those beliefs that set this group apart from other flavors of Christianity.
First, let me clarify what I mean when I speak of the Essentials of the Christian faith. There are many important beliefs or principles upon which Christianity is defined. There are a few which have been singled out as being core principles. Those core principles are belief in the Trinity, God the Son’s virgin birth, vicarious life, miracles, death on the cross, bodily resurrection, ascension to the Throne where his blood served as a once-for-all substitutionary sacrifice for us, and salvation by faith alone through grace alone (no added requirements such as water or spirit baptism nor by extension Speaking in Tongues). These serve as the foundation, the essence of Christianity. Everything else, while important, is built on these principles.
Okay, so, that said, what are the Pentecostal distinctives? Others might list them differently or list more or fewer distinctives but from my experience, I would list them as: Baptism of the Holy Spirit, manifestations of the gifts, and form of worship. Many outside observers (and perhaps some within our ranks as well) would argue that the primary distinctive is anti-intellectualism. Honestly, that is not the case—at least not for the majority. I would suggest that every denomination and every religion has their anti-intellectualists as well as their hyper-intellectualists and their hyper-spiritualists and their plain downright nut-jobs. That cannot legitimately be used as a justification for rejecting the beliefs of the majority within those groups.
Baptism of the Holy Spirit is a separate baptism from water baptism. Pentecostals interpret scripture to indicate two separate indwellings of the Holy Spirit. The first indwelling occurs at salvation (John 20:22) and the second is a separate event that comes at salvation or at some later time (Acts 1:4 and Acts 2:3-4). It is the latter indwelling that Pentecostals refer to when talking about the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. Most Pentecostals do not believe that the Baptism of the Holy Spirit is required for salvation any more than water baptism is required for salvation.
The manifestations of the gifts of the Spirit come to those who have received the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. These gifts are not the ministry offices (pastor, preacher, evangelist, etc.) nor the different types of service (eg., hospitality) both of which are designed into us by God the Father and revealed upon salvation by God the Holy Spirit. The gifts which are manifested after the Spirit baptism are gifts of empowerment: word of wisdom, word of knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, discerning of spirits, speaking in different tongues, and interpretation of tongues. These gifts are given to empower the believer to fulfill the Great Commission—to go and share the Gospel. Non-Pentecostal Christians believe that the empowerment gifts ceased either after the death of the Apostles or after the printing of the King James Bible. Pentecostals believe the Holy Spirit is still alive and well and empowering believers to go and share the Good News of Jesus Christ.
The final distinctive is in style of worship. Where non-Pentecostal denominations have varying degrees of formality to their services, there is much less so in Pentecostal services. Pentecostals were the first to abandon hymnals and hymns for overhead projectors and “worship songs”. Others have adopted this practice but not necessarily the musical style, clapping, dancing, hand raising, and even shouting that occurs in Pentecostal churches. That said, style of worship is more variable amongst Pentecostal churches even those within the same denomination. Some are more “dignified” and may only display some hand-clapping and arm raising. Others are quite “undignified” and demonstrative. The local flavor is unique to each yet still sufficiently different from other flavors of Christianity to make this a distinctive characteristic of Pentecostalism.