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Pentecostal Vs Baptist

Within Christianity there are several streams, or branches, of the faith based upon interpretation and/or emphasis of certain Scripture passages.  

Two of these streams of theological differences are the baptistic and pentecostal movements, also identified as Baptists and Pentecostals. Within these movements are varying degrees of dogmatism and charity regarding doctrinal positions, some similarities, as well as fringe groups that would be considered outside the scope of orthodox Christianity

For help in understanding this, refer to the diagram below, with Pentecostal denominations on the left and Baptist denominations on the right.  This list is not exhaustive by any means and only includes the largest denominations of each branch. (please note that Left or Right is not intended to infer political allegiances). 

United Pentecostal ChurchBethel ChurchThe Apostolic ChurchChurch of GodFoursquare GospelAssemblies of GodCalvary/Vineyard/HillsongEvangelical Free Church of AmericaConvergeNorth American BaptistSouthern BaptistFree Will BaptistFundamental/Independent Baptist

What is a Baptist?

A Baptist, in simplest terms, is one who holds to the believer’s baptism. They maintain that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone brought about by the Regenerating work of the Holy SpiritAs an act of obedience and in demonstration that one has accepted Christ, one can decide to be baptized by immersion as an illustration of Romans 6:1-4 and that confirmation of such faith is demonstrated by one’s perseverance in the faith.

What is a Pentecostal?

A Pentecostal is one who also believes that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone, many also believe in baptism by immersion as an act of obedience, however, they would move a step further and say that authentic faith can only be confirmed through a second baptism, known as the Baptism of the Spirit, and that evidence of such a baptism is demonstrated by the miraculous gift of the Spirit of speaking in tongues (glossolalia), as was done on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2. 

Similarities between Baptists and Pentecostals

With the exception of some outlying denominations on either side of the spectrum, most Pentecostals and Baptists agree on several Christian orthodox teachings: Salvation is in Christ Alone; God exists as Triune in Father, Son and Holy Spirit; The Bible is the inspired Word of God; Christ will return to redeem His Church; and there is a heaven and a hell.

Origin of Baptist and Pentecostal denomination

You can say that both branches can claim their origin in the beginnings of the church, and there is certainly evidence for each in some of the first churches, a baptist faith in the beginning of the Church at Philippi (Acts 16:25-31) and a church that seemed to be pentecostal was the Church at Corinth (1 Corinthians 14). However, we must look at the more recent movements of each branch to better understand the modern versions of what we see today, and for this we must begin after the Reformation of the 1500’s.

Baptist Origin

Modern Baptists can trace their beginnings back to the turbulent periods of church persecution and civil war in 17th century England. There was great pressure to conform to the Church of England, which practiced a faith similar to Roman Catholicism and the baptism of infants (also known as paedobaptism).

Seeking religious freedom were two men named John Smythe and Thomas Helwys who took their congregations to the Netherlands. John Smythe was the first to write about the Baptist church’s conclusion that only believer’s baptism was supported by scripture, and that the baptizing of infants was not. 

After persecution eased, Helwys returned to England and eventually formed an association of General Baptists churches (General meaning they believed the atonement applied generally or as making salvation possible for those who choose to receive it). They aligned themselves more closely with the teaching of Jacobus Arminius. 

Another association of Baptist churches arose around this time that attribute their origin to Pastor John Spilsbury. They were the Particular Baptists. They believed in a more limited atonement or as making salvation definite for all of God’s elect. They aligned themselves with the teaching of John Calvin

Both branches made their way to the Colonies of the New World, however the Particular Baptists, or the Reformed/Puritans became more populous as the movement grew.  The early American Baptists gained many followers from the older congregational churches, and grew in great force during the first and second Great Awakening revivals. Many from Appalachia and southern colonies/states also became Baptists during this time, which eventually formed an association of churches now called The Southern Baptist Convention, the largest protestant denomination in America. 

Certainly this is an abbreviated history and cannot account for all the various streams of Baptists that came to be, such as Converge (or Baptist General Conference) or North American Baptists. Baptistic theology was adopted by many from the Old World, including the Dutch, Scottish, Swedish, Norwegian and even German.  And finally, many freed slaves adopted the Baptistic faith of their former slave owners and began to form Black baptist churches after they were freed, of which most famous pastor to come out of this movement was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a pastor from the American Baptist Association churches. 

Today, there are many churches that practice baptistic theology and do not even have any direct roots in the Baptist church.  Among them would be the Evangelical Free Church of America, many Independent Bible Churches, many non-denominational evangelical churches and even some pentecostal denominations/churches. Any church that strictly practices believer’s baptism traces their theological lineage back to John Smyth of the English Seperatist Baptists who denounced paedobaptism as unsupported by Scripture and that believer’s baptism is the only way to practice a true interpretation of Scripture.  

Pentecostal Origin

The modern Pentecostal movement is not quite as old as the Baptist, and can trace their origins to the late 19th and early 20th century America, coming out of the 3rd Great Awakening camp revivals and the Holiness movement, which finds its roots in Methodism.

During the 3rd Great Awakening, a movement sprang from the Methodist Church of people seeking complete sanctification to move beyond a one time salvation experience. They believed that the Christian can and should achieve perfect holiness on this side of heaven, and that this comes from a second work, or a second blessing, from God.  Methodists, Nazarenes, Wesleyans, Christian and Missionary Alliance and the Salvation Army Church all came out of the Holiness Movement.  

Holiness Movements began springing up in Appalachia and other mountainous regions teaching people on how to attain complete holiness. The turn of the century, in 1901 at Bethel Bible College in Kansas, a female student by the name of Agnes Ozman is considered the first person to speak of being baptized in the Holy Spirit, and speaking in tongues, which gave her what she believed was the evidence of this second blessing.  The practice was quickly adopted into the holiness movement revivals that swept the country.

During one of these revival meetings on Bonnie Brae Street in Los Angeles, CA, crowds were drawn to the preaching of William J. Seymour and the experiences of people speaking in tongues and being “slain” in the Spirit. The meetings were soon moved to Azusa Street to accommodate the crowds, and here was birthed the Holiness Pentecostal movement. 

Over the span of the 20th century, out of the Holiness Pentecostal movement came the Four Square Gospel church, the Church of God, the Assemblies of God, the United Pentecostal Church, and later Calvary Chapel, the Vineyard Church and Hillsong. The more recent of these movements, Bethel Church, originally beginning as an Assemblies of God church, focuses even more on the miraculous gifts of healing and prophecy as evidence of the Holy Spirit at work through believers, and thus evidence of one’s salvation. This church is considered by many to be borderline unorthodox with its extreme focus on miracles.

Another pentecostal denomination, The Apostolic Church, arose out of the early 20th century Welsh Revival, interestingly enough because the founder believed in believer’s baptism. This church spread with the British colonization of Africa and the largest Apostolic Church is found in Nigeria. 

Many other offshoots of Pentecostalism that are considered unorthodox or apostate are the Oneness movement, which holds to the understanding of the Triune God as taking modes instead of being unified in three individual persons. And the Prosperity Gospel movement, which is an extreme form of pentecostalism believing in an over-realized eschatology. 

View of spiritual gifts

Both baptistic and pentecostal traditions believe that the Holy Spirit gifts believers with certain abilities for the furthering of His kingdom and the edification of His Church (Romans 12, 1 Corinthains 12, Ephesians 4). However, within both traditions are varying degrees of how this is practiced.

Typically, Baptists believe in the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit and hold to either two possibilities: 1) a moderate “open but cautious” view of the miraculous gifts, where there is the possibility of the presence of direct miracles, non-canon prophecy and speaking in tongues, but that these are not normative for the Christian faith and are not needed as evidence of God’s presence or salvation; or 2) a cessation of the miraculous gifts, believing that the miraculous gifts of speaking in tongues, prophecy and direct healing ceased to be needed when the church had been established in the world and the biblical canon had been completed, or also known as the end of the Apostlic age. 

It should be obvious by now that Pentecostals believe in the operation of the miraculous gifts.  Various denominations and churches take this from moderate to extreme levels, but most believe it to be needed as evidence of the Spirit’s baptism of a believer, and thus the outward manifestation of the Spirit dwelling within and that the individual is indeed saved. 

Speaking in Tongues

Speaking in Tongues, or Glossolalia, is one of the miraculous manifestations of the Holy Spirit that Pentecostals believe evidence one’s salvation. The main Scripture that Pentecostals turn to for support of this is Acts 2.  Other passages of support could be Mark 16:17, Acts 10 and 19,  1 Corinthians 12 – 14 and even Old Testament passages such as Isaiah 28:11 and Joel 2:28-29. 

Baptists, whether cessationist or open-but-cautious, believe that speaking in tongues is not needed to evidence one’s salvation. Their interpretation leads them to believe that the examples of Scripture in Acts and 1 Corinthians were the exception and not the rule, and that the Old Testament passages are prophecies fulfilled once in Acts 2. Furthermore, the Greek word translated tongue in many versions in Acts 2 is the word “glossa”, which means the physical tongue or language. Pentecostals interpret this as supernatural utterances, the language of angels or of heaven, but Baptists see no Scriptural support or evidence for this.  Baptists see the gift of tongues as a sign and evidence for unbelievers who were present during the apostilic age (the establishing of the church by the Apostles). 

In 1 Corinthians 14 Paul gave clear teaching to the Corinthian Church, where an early form of pentecostalism was being practiced, to establish rules regarding the speaking in tongues in the congregation. Many Pentecostal churches and movements who hold to the authority of Scripture follow this passage closely, however some do not.  From this passage, Baptists understand that Paul did not expect every believer to speak in tongues, and conclude from this, along with other New Testament evidence, that speaking in tongues is not needed to evidence one’s salvation. 

Doctrinal positions between Pentecostals and Baptists

As demonstrated earlier in this article, the Pentecostal and Baptist denominations that are more central in spectrum can still be considered orthodox, meaning they all can agree on the essentials of Christian doctrine

However, there are some differences as a result of how Scripture has been interpreted. These differences can be taken to extremes and move each movement farther out on the spectrum on both sides, depending upon how dogmatic each can be. Here are four specific doctrines below which can be taken to extreme levels and practices. 


Both Baptists and Pentecostals agree that Christ died as a substitute in our place, atoning for our sins. It is in the application of the atonement where each side differs. Baptists believe that this atonement heals our hearts, makes way for the Holy Spirit to indwell us and begins the process of sanctification toward holiness, fully completed in glory. Pentecostals believe that in the atonement, not only are our hearts healed, but that our physical ailments can be healed as well and that sanctification is evidenced by outward manifestations, with some pentecostals believing that the atonement gives us the guarantee that complete sanctification can be achieved on this side of glory.


By now it should be obvious the differences of each movement’s emphasis and belief regarding the work of the Holy Spirit. Both believe that the Holy Spirit is active in the church and indwells individual believers. However, Baptists believe that this work is for the inward transformation of sanctification and for the perseverance of believers, and Pentecostals believe that the Spirit manifests itself through truly saved believers who evidence the miraculous gifts in their daily lives.

Eternal Security

Baptists typically believe that once one is truly saved, they cannot be “unsaved” or walk away from the faith and that the evidence of their salvation is their perseverance in the faith. Pentecostals will typically believe that one can lose their salvation because if they “evidenced” speaking in tongues at one time, and then become apostate, then they must have lost that which they once had. 


Baptists and Pentecostals both hold to the doctrine of eternal glory and eternal damnation. However, Baptists believe that the gifts of heaven, namely physical healing and complete security and peace, are reserved for future glory, and not guaranteed in the present.  Many Pentecostals believe that one can have the gifts of heaven today, with the Prosperity Gospel movement taking this to an extreme level that says that if a believer does not have the gifts of heaven, then they must not have enough faith to receive what is guaranteed to them as children of God (this is known as an over-realized eschatology).

Church government comparison

Church polity, or the way in which churches govern themselves, can vary within each movement.  However, historically Baptists have governed themselves through a congregational form of government and amongst Pentecostals you will find either an Episcopal form of governance, or an Apostlic governance with great authority given to one or several leaders in the local church.

Differences in Baptist and Pentecostal pastors

Pastors within both movements can vary widely in terms of how they carry on the role of under-shepherd. In terms of their preaching style, you will find typical Baptist preaching taking the form of expository teaching, and typical Pentecostal preaching using a topical approach. Both movements can have charismatic teachers, however Pentecostal preachers will employ Pentecostal theology into their preaching.

Famous Pastors and influencers

Some of the famous pastors and influences in the Baptist movement are:  John Smythe, John Bunyan, Charles Spurgeon, Billy Graham, Martin Luther King, Jr., Rick Warren, John Piper, Albert Mohler, Don Carson and J. D. Greear. 

Some of the famous pastors and influences in the Pentecostal  movement are:  William J. Seymour, Aimee Semple McPherson, Oral Roberts, Chuck Smith, Jimmy Swaggert, John Wimber, Brian Houston, TD Jakes, Benny Hinn and Bill Johnson. 


Within Pentecostalism, there is much focus on the outward manifestations of the Spirit’s work and the Christian experience, whereas within Baptistic beliefs, there is more focus on the inward work of the Spirit and the Christian transformation. Because of this, you will find Pentecostal churches to have a highly charismatic and a “senses” based worship, and worship in Baptist churches will focus more heavily on the teaching of the Word for inward transformation and perseverance.

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