Most born-again Christians are identified as either Evangelical or Pentecostal Christians. The term evangelist originally referred to the disciples who proclaimed of the “good news” of Christ’s teaching (the literal meaning of its Greek root). But by the end of the 2nd century the term was applied to the four authors of the gospel (Anglo-Saxon for “good tidings”), and evangelism to any form of conversion-oriented preaching. During the Protestant Reformation, the title Evangelical reflected Luther’s emphasis on returning to the gospel message itself, free of church doctrine. Today, the Lutheran Church in Germany and several Lutheran sects in America have the word Evangelical in their names. But its most common usage developed around the turn of this century in America among conservative fundamentalists within the Methodist, Baptist, Congregational, and Presbyterian churches and Pentecostal and Holiness sects, who emphasized preaching the Bible and personal spiritual experience without the mediation of a clerical class.
Evangelicals, as they call themselves, tend to favor warmth and emotionalism over formality. Although they grew out of the fundamentalist movement, strict fundamentalists make up only a minority fringe of Evangelicalism today (specifically Bob Jones University and the American Council of Christian Churches). In a modern context, the term refers to Protestant religions that conform to the earliest teachings of the New Testament, apart from their interpretation by the Church Fathers and popes. Evangelicals do accept historic the belief in the three Persons of the Trinity. At least 14 kinds of Evangelicalism have been identified in the U.S., from Conservative (including perennial evangelist Billy Graham) to Charismatic (typified by Oral Roberts).
Pentecostalists are fundamentalist Protestants who emphasize being born again in the (Holy) Spirit, often accompanied by speaking in tongues, and healing by laying on of hands. The largest Pentecostalist churches are the Assemblies of God, the Church of God, the Church of God in Christ (the largest black Pentecostal sect), and the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel, founded by famed faith-healer Aimee Semple McPherson (1890-1944), who is also considered the first radio evangelist.
Both Evangelical and Pentecostalist prayer meetings are likely to include hand-clapping, spontaneous prayer and testimony, tongues, faith healing, and upraised arms accompanied by shouts of “Praise the Lord!” When Jerry Falwell took control of the PTL (for Praise the Lord) during the much-publicized scandal in which Jim Bakker was convicted of pocketing millions of dollars in contributions, Bakker’s followers objected largely becuase Falwell’s dour fundamentalist style did not jibe with Bakker’s and his congregation’s more emotional, Evangelical one. Many fundamentalist Baptists, who don’t believe in tongues, are put off by that kind of exuberance.
The wide-spread success of the Pentecostal and Evangelical sects has led Roman Catholic and mainline Protest churches to accept within their own denominations charismatic movements which foster an emotionally charged atmosphere in the context of otherwise orthodox worship services.
Televangelists, who preach over the airwaves or cable and survive on mailed-in contributions, don’t belong to a specific sect, but are almost always born-again. Some of them, like Pat Robertson, use their electronic pulpits to attempt to influence political events. Others, like Oral Roberts, merely raise large sums of money and endow colleges and universities named after them. Robert Tilton, whose Dallas-based television ministry has been the subject of television exposes and an IRS investigation for fraud, talks in tongues and practices faith-healing over the tube.
The most successful electronic evangelist in America based on ratings is Robert Schuller, whose “Hour of Power” is ranked first among religious broadcasts by both Nielsen and Arbitron, with about one and a half million viewers and listeners, and 50 nations around the world. Schuller preaches a sunny gospel from his Crystal Cathedral in Southern California, borrowing from Norman Vincent Peale’s “Power of Positive Thinking” approach to religion with something he calls “possibility thinking.”