History of the Pentecostal Movement
“And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions: And also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my spirit” (JOEL 2:28-29).
“And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance” (ACTS 2:1-4).
Precursors to the Pentecostal Movement
John Alexander Dowie
The Pentecostal Movement grew out of the Holiness Revival of the second half of the nineteenth century. This revival was an expression of both social and theological discontent among the nation's lower and middle-class groups. Holiness followers disapproved of the godlessness in mainline denominations, as well as the growing wealth and lack of simplicity of their churches. Not content to remain in mainline churches, they formed new religious communities committed to seeking perfection in Christ. These former Methodists, Presbyterians and Baptists were experiencing a renewed outpouring of the Holy Spirit much like the early church experienced in the book of Acts. The Holiness Revival produced a hunger for the Baptism of the Holy Spirit (a divine empowerment of believers) and for other spiritual gifts promised to the New Testament church such as healing and prophecy.
In the nineteenth century, Edward Irving, a popular Presbyterian pastor in London, sought after the restoration of the spiritual gifts or charisms in the modern church. Irving led the first attempt at "charismatic/spiritual renewal" in his Regents Square Presbyterian Church in 1831. Although the gifts of tongues and prophecies were operated in his church, Irving was not successful in his quest of restoring New Testament Christianity. In the end, the "Catholic Apostolic Church" which was founded by his followers, attempted to restore the "five-fold ministries" (of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers) in addition to the spiritual gifts. Irving pointed to speaking in tongues as the first manifestation of the baptism in/receiving the Holy Spirit, a major facet in the future of the Pentecostals. In the United States, holiness leaders such as Charles Cullis, John Alexander Dowie, and Albert B. Simpson established healing missions across the states. They, like other holiness advocates, believed a new, miraculous era of the Spirit was occurring which would end in the second coming of Christ.
Albert B. Simpson
Another predecessor to Pentecostalism was the Keswick "Higher Life" movement which flourished in England after 1875. Led at first by American holiness teachers such as Hannah Whitall Smith and William E. Boardman, the Keswick teachers put an emphasis on an "enduement of spiritual power for service." Thus, by the time of the Pentecostal outbreak in America in 1901, there had been at least a century of movements emphasizing an experience called the "baptism in the Holy Spirit" with various interpretations concerning the content and results of the experience. In America, such Keswick teachers as A.B. Simpson and A.J. Gordon also added to the movement at large an emphasis on divine healing "as in the atonement" and the pre-millenial rapture of the church.
Origins of 20th century Pentecostals
Charles F. Parham
The first "Pentecostals" in the modern sense appeared on the scene in 1901 in the city of Topeka, Kansas in a Bible school conducted by Charles Fox Parham, a holiness teacher and former Methodist pastor. In January 1901, Parham asked the students at the Bible school to study the Bible to find out the scriptural evidence for receiving the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Using the Pentecost account in Acts chapter two, they concluded that speaking in tongues was the confirmation of receiving the Holy Spirit. Thus the Pentecostal movement began during the first days of 1901 just as the world entered the Twentieth Century. The first person to receive the infilling of the Holy Spirit was Agnes Ozman, one of Parham's Bible School students – she spoke in tongues on the very first day of the new century, January 1st, 1901. According to J. Roswell Flower, the founding Secretary of the Assemblies of God, Ozman's experience was the "touch felt round the world," an event which "made the Pentecostal Movement of the Twentieth Century."
William J. Seymour
It was not until 1906, however, that Pentecostalism achieved worldwide attention through the Azusa Street revival in Los Angeles led by the African-American preacher William Joseph Seymour. He learned about the baptism of the Holy Spirit in a Bible school that Parham conducted in Houston, Texas in 1905. Invited to pastor a black holiness church in Los Angeles in 1906, Seymour opened the historic meeting in April, 1906 in a former African Methodist Episcopal church building at 312 Azusa Street in downtown Los Angeles.
Azusa Street Mission
What happened at Azusa Street has fascinated church historians for decades and has yet to be fully understood and explained. For over three years, the Azusa Street "Apostolic Faith Mission" conducted three services a day, seven days a week, where thousands of seekers received the Holy Spirit. Word of the revival was spread abroad through ‘The Apostolic Faith', a paper that Seymour sent free of charge to some 50,000 subscribers. From Azusa Street the revival spread throughout the United States. Holiness leaders from the Church of God in Christ (Memphis, Tennessee), the Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee), and the Pentecostal Holiness Church (Georgia and the Carolinas), were present at Azusa and carried its message back to their churches.
For most early Pentecostals, speaking in tongues was associated with spiritual power and with an anointing to serve rather than spiritual perfection. Although diversity characterized their beliefs and theology (Pentecostals ranged from Wesleyan-holiness, to Reformed, and Unitarian), Pentecostals were centred on soul-winning and perceived politics and national events to be dangerous diversions. But early Pentecostals were also both prohibitionists and pacifists (many chose Conscientious Objector status during WWI), and the early Pentecostal churches often stood in opposition to the prevailing contemporary attitudes toward wealth, recreation, and dress.
The interracial aspects of the movement in Los Angeles were a striking exception to the racism and segregation of the times. The phenomenon of blacks and whites worshipping together under a black pastor seemed incredible to many observers. The ethos of the meeting was captured by Frank Bartleman, a white Azusa participant, when he said of Azusa Street, "The colour line was washed away in the blood." Indeed, people from all the ethnic minorities of Los Angeles, a city which Bartleman called "the American Jerusalem," were represented at Azusa Street.
The first wave of "Azusa pilgrims" journeyed throughout the United States spreading the Pentecostal fire, primarily in holiness churches, missions, and camp meetings. For some time, it was thought that it was necessary to journey to California to receive the "blessing". Soon, however, people received the Holy Spirit wherever they lived.
The Pentecostal Movement Today
The Pentecostal movement is by far the largest and most important religious movement of the twentieth century. Beginning in 1901 with only a handful of students in a Bible School in Topeka, Kansas, the number of Pentecostals steadily increased throughout the world during the Twentieth Century until by 1993 they had become the largest family of Protestants in the world. In 2000, there were an estimated 560 million Pentecostals in the world.
- Vinson Synan, Ph.D., The Origins of the Pentecostal Movement; Oral Roberts University, 7777 S. Lewis Avenue, Tulsa OK 74171, Copyright © 1996 Oral Roberts University
- Margaret M. Poloma, The Pentecostal Movement
- Randall J Stephens, Assessing the Roots of Pentecostalism, http://are.as.wvu.edu/pentroot.htm
- Vinson Synan, The Holiness-Pentecostal Movement in the United States, William B. Berdmans Publishing, Grand Rapids, MI (1971)